Is Life Fair? No! Wisdom from Ecclesiastes (and Jesus…) #115
Happy Wednesday, friends. I have refused for many years to call Wednesday ‘hump-day’ as a matter of principle, and I still refuse, so don’t hold your breath hoping for me to wish you a happy hump-day at some point. It won’t happen, unless I have been kidnapped and forced to do the podcast against my will, at which point, I will signal my need for rescue by uttering that greeting. Hopefully, we won’t have to cross that bridge at any point in the future, but this podcast has many enemies, so you never know.
Today’s Bible readings include Leviticus 26, Ecclesiastes 9, Psalms 33 and Titus 1. As we have mentioned before, Ecclesiastes is not the happiest of Bible books. I’m not sure that I’d go to this book if my soul was downcast, and I was desperate for an encouraging pick-me up. That said, there is indeed wisdom to be found here, and the whole thrust of the book is found in its finale, so let’s hold off on being too harsh until we get there. One of the profound observations that Solomon is going to share with us today is that life simply isn’t fair, and he is going to share that truth with us in a bunch of different and soul-crushing ways. You might be saying – I don’t think I’m up for much of a soul-crushing episode of the podcast right now – what with a virus stalking the lands like an invisible and scary stalky thing, and you’d be right, and that is why this is NOT going to be a soul-crushing episode, but a soul-LIFTING episode. So – just hang on. Let’s read Ecclesiastes and come back and discuss.
Wow. That was a bummer. Hang on for a few more minutes, because good news is coming. First, let’s discuss the bad news we’ve just read. Solomon has just told us in several different ways that life is not fair at all. Consider:
vs 2. Solomon says that DEATH awaits all – the virtuous and the sinner, the fool and the wise. UNFAIR! “2 Everything is the same for everyone: There is one fate for the righteous and the wicked, for the good and the bad, for the clean and the unclean, for the one who sacrifices and the one who does not sacrifice. As it is for the good, so also it is for the sinner; as it is for the one who takes an oath, so also for the one who fears an oath.”
vs. 11 – the best don’t always win, though it would be fair for them to do so. “Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all of them.”
vs 15. Poor heroes who are wise are completely forgotten because they are poor, “15 Now a poor wise man was found in the city, and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man.“
That’s just in chapter 9. If you’ve been paying attention, Solomon has already told us numerous unfair things as well. How about Ecclesiastes 8:14, “There is a futility that is done on the earth: there are righteous people who get what the actions of the wicked deserve, and there are wicked people who get what the actions of the righteous deserve. I say that this too is futile.” Ouch! This is the height of unfairness!
How about 7:15, “In my futile life I have seen everything: someone righteous perishes in spite of his righteousness, and someone wicked lives long in spite of his evil.”
Or 6:2, “God gives a person riches, wealth, and honor so that he lacks nothing of all he desires for himself, but God does not allow him to enjoy them. Instead, a stranger will enjoy them. This is futile and a sickening tragedy.“
And finally, 3:19-22 “For the fate of the children of Adam and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath. People have no advantage over animals since everything is futile. 20 All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust. 21 Who knows if the spirits of the children of Adam go upward and the spirits of animals go downward to the earth? 22 I have seen that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities because that is his reward. For who can enable him to see what will happen after he dies?“
Are you depressed yet? Wow – that’s some heavy stuff. People often think Christians are pollyannas or sunshine-pumpers – people given to irrational and excessive optimism. I’m honestly not sure you can read the Bible – Old or New Testament – and come away thinking the Bible is anything but genuine, authentic, truthful and gritty. The Word of God does not whitewash things. I’ll admit – many preachers do. Many televangelists do. Some moms and dads do. Some Sunday School teachers also….but the Bible doesn’t. Solomon shows us today that life is NOT fair. Those who try hardest don’t always win. Some wonderful people die young and some horrible people live a long and materially blessed life. Sometimes the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Who can understand such things?
But the real thing is what Solomon keeps coming back to: death. In his understanding – death comes for all, and the rich/wise/virtuous/humble are no better off than the wicked/foolish/haughty or animals, from what he can tell. And there’s the important pivot for us. As far as Solomon knew, death was the same for all. There are some hints that he knew the righteous would be ultimately rewarded and the wicked ultimately punished, but it is like he is peering through the fog and can’t really see clearly at all. Despite all his wisdom and learning, he is utterly perplexed. I wonder how much of that is due to the 1 Kings 11:4 dynamic? (“When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God, as his father David had been.“) Probably quite a bit, actually – but the other thing that made things about the afterlife foggy was the fact that God had not revealed it Old Testament believers as fully as Jesus does in the flesh. And when Jesus comes on the scene, we learn just precisely how UNFAIR things are – especially eternal things.
One of the greatest little summations of that unfairness is found in Luke 22:37
For I tell you, what is written must be fulfilled in me: And he was counted among the lawless. Yes, what is written about me is coming to its fulfillment.”Luke 22:37
This, my friends, is the absolute pinnacle of unfairness. Jesus, the perfect God-man, was counted as a rebel, as a sinner, as a criminal that deserved the worst punishment of all, crucifixion. He knew no sin, but suffered the penalty for all of our sins. There has never been something so unfair happen before or since, and there never will be again!
Romans 4:25, “He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
1 Corinthians 15:3, “3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,”
2nd Corinthians 5:21, “ He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.“
Colossians 2:14 “He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.”
John 6:40, “”For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
If only Solomon could look upon this most unfair of all things. I am quite sure it would completely erase his lamenting, and cause him to joyfully exult in the divine unfairness of it all – the sacrifice of the perfect Jesus for His most imperfect sheep. Solomon was absolutely right that life was and is unfair, but he just misunderstood the direction that the River Unfair flowed. It does not flow against us, brothers and sisters, but for us in every way – thanks be to Jesus the Messiah!
Meditate on this beautiful and glorious bit of unfairness and rejoice that you see more clearly than the wisest man of ancient days (because of Jesus.):
He was despised and rejected by men,Isaiah 53:3-6
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like someone people turned away from;
he was despised, and we didn’t value him.
4 Yet he himself bore our sicknesses,
and he carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced because of our rebellion,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on him,
and we are healed by his wounds.
6 We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished him
for the iniquity of us all.