Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 - Life under the Loom

Imagine two little mice who live in a weaver’s shop, a way back 100 years ago. All day long the steady hum of the loom fills their life. Overhead the shuttle passes back and forth colours appear and disappear. Every so often the loom stops and scissors appear and snip a thread and tie it off. A new spool is loaded on and a new set of colours starts. “What did he do that for?” asks one of the mice. “Black is all wrong – why did he stop that beautiful burgundy?” Then off the noise will go again with different colours mingling in among, black, and reds, golds, and purples, greys, and creams, greens, and then it all stops, and snip and more threads are started in – pinks, and oranges, and sunset tints, with yellow and burnt umber. Then stop and snip. And off it goes again.

"That looks a right mess," says one of the mice.

"Well the weaver knows what he is dong."

"What weaver? I don’t believe in a weaver. Sure that machine goes on and on like it always has – right from the day you were born, it just keeps tramping along. No-one outlasts the loom. It will still be going the day you die. And I don’t believe in a weaver."

"Sure there’s a weaver. What about all the changes, what about the rhythm of the loom? What about the design of the carpet?"

"There can’t be a weaver sure the thing is a shambles. Straggly ends of tails everywhere, colours mixing and clashing."

"Ah but it will look great from the other side says the other. There’s a time for gold, and a time for black, a time for red and time for browns, a time to cut and a time to tie. A time to tighten and a time to slacken. That’s the weaver at work – you mightn’t see him, but each thread is planned and designed by him to create a masterpiece. You have to remember that we live under the loom, and we can’t see the whole thing, and even if we could see it, we’re so small that we couldn’t see it all at once."

Living under the loom means two things: we can’t see the weaver, and we can’t see what he is doing – and so to us it looks a mess.

The way the world deals with this is to either pretend that there isn’t a weaver, or that he’s not very good, or that there are some weaving vandals who sneak in and weave dark threads in and although the weaver sees his work marred by these dark threads there’s nothing he can do about it. So either a non-existent weaver, or a stupid one or a powerless one.

What Solomon is arguing here is that there is a weaver, that his plan incorporates all that happens and that he is both good, clever, and all powerful.

God is in control of your life, not you v1-8
The opening verses of ch 1 speak of the repetitive cycle of life, as if the world were some sort of giant machine that just keeps rolling along. Life as we look at it and as Solomon looked at it seems chaotic random and repetitive. Things seem to happen for no particular reason – illness, death, disaster,. But what Solomon is saying in these opening 8 verses is that there is a pattern, and that that pattern is overseen by God.

There is a time for everything. There is nothing that escapes the control of God. There are no flukes or chance happenings in God’s universe.

These verses aren’t our marching orders – these verses aren’t telling us that we need to make time to tidy up and time to throw stuff out, or that we need to make time to laugh and take time to weep. Those things are true, but that is not what Solomon is saying here.

Solomon is not prescribing what we should do, he is describing what happens regardless of what we do. He is not telling us to put order into our lives, he is telling us that there is order in the events that happen to us in our lives. And more than that he is telling us that so much of our lives is beyond our control. We like to think of us as setting the course of our lives, but Solomon outlines here either things that happen to us, or ways that we react to things which happen to us, all of which are beyond our control.

There is a time to live and a time to die. We have no say about when we arrive in this world. Its not as if we were sitting around some table in Heaven with God and we said, “Well now’s the time I would like to make an appearance”. And neither, in the natural course of things, do we choose the time or manner of our deaths.

These are events over which we have no control. And Solomon is saying much more than the set events of birth and death are decreed, but everything in between. It is all appointed by God.

There is a time to plant – sowing in winter is pointless, God has set the season for planting and the season for harvesting.

And even when man does what he should not – the destructive events of life like murder – these are not outside of God’s decree. God isn’t sitting wringing his hands wondering what’s going on. And although man is utterly sinful and chooses to sin, God is still sovereign. Nothing catches him unawares.

There is a time when healing comes, and we get better from whatever was afflicting us – who chooses that time? Some of you would love to be able to choose that time, but that timing is in God’s hands. Neither do we choose the times of joy in our lives, and we can’t choose the times of sorrow – they come, often when we are least ready. They catch us unawares.

There’s a time of victory – scattering stones on fields was was victorious troops did to render the land unproductive; and there’s a time of defeat – when you are on the receiving end. Again it’s not up to us.

There’s a time when close family love is able to be expressed, but there are times and circumstances that mean we aren’t able to embrace. Distance, work, sickness.

Things get lost and we have to look, things wear out and we have to ditch them. Often the timing of that isn’t in our hands. We don’t plan to lose something and spend half and hour turning the house upside down looking for it. We don’t plan that today I will wear out my washing machine. It happens. So much of our lives are outside of our control.

And so it goes on –

a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,

Grief, along with the tearing of garments comes unbidden, and unannounced. But there is also a time when grief’s pain has subsided and we can mend the garments and start to get life back in order. But these times aren’t something that you plan or orchestrate yourself.

a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,

Times when we are in circumstances where we are filled with love, times we are brought into circumstances where we see things we wished we hadn’t.

a time for war and a time for peace.

All of life is encompassed, all our emotions are included, the whole sweep of human existence, the good and the bad, the creative and the destructive and what Solomon is saying is this – you don’t control your life half as much as you think you do. And he is not being fatalistic, he’s not talking about the tyranny of time, as if he wants us to throw up our hands and say – well it doesn’t matter what I do.

The whole point of this is to put us in our place.

Unlike William Ernest Henley who wrote a famous poem called Invictus which ends like this:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Solomon says, “Oh no, by no means are you the master of your fate or the captain of your soul. You can’t even control what happens to you and around you.”

And how often we are apt to make that same mistake we think, “ I’ll go here and do this, I’ll save for Christ years, and then buy such and such. I’ll retire at 50 and take the rest of life easy.” Or the most famous one, “I’ll become a Christian when I’m older.” As if we are somehow in control of the twists and turns of our lives. As if we know that there will be a later, or a 50, or 7 years time.

These verses are humbling
We are not the mighty intrepid explorers of life that we think we are, instead we have to take what cards we are dealt.

In one sense he does want us to despair. He wants us to despair of thinking that we rule – because that is the whole point of sin, we think we rule our lives, that we can shake our tiny fist at God and say, “How dare you tell me how to live”. Solomon wants us to see the futility of thinking we’re in charge of our own lives.

And as James says,
13Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (James 4)

These verses are also realistic
Look at the list and see what Solomon is saying –
Life for us in unpredictable. Life will have its share of pain. Some Christians live as if God has forgotten what he is doing whenever trouble comes – they think that if you trust Jesus all will be rosy for you. Not Solomon. For Solomon, disaster doesn’t mean that God is absent. Too often I hear pastors and Christians after some tragedy or disaster saying something like, “God didn’t want this to happen, God didn’t plan this, God had nothing to do with this.” And while that seems like nice advice at the time and seems to let God off the hook, it simply reduces God to some weak ineffective nice old man who wanted nice stuff to happen but is powerless to make it happen.

Solomon’s God is much more robust than that. Solomon’s God is sovereign over the disasters as well as over the good times. We come to the obvious question in a minute.

These verses also give great confidence to the one who trusts God.
Everything is planned – there are no flukes, no accidents. The Bible tells us that he knows the number of hairs on your head, that he is aware of all the movements of even the smallest birds – and it is not just a case of knowing what is happening, it is a case of directing it. So when God says, “I know the plans I have for you” (Jer 29:11) he means exactly what he says. Everything that comes to you, from the cradle to the grave, comes from the hand of a God who only ever does what is right. Here is a warrant for confidence

This is breathes life into us when the hard times come, this gives us stability when the storms of life batter down on us – everything under the sun is controlled by a sovereign and personal God.

That raises an obvious question – if the universe isn’t a soulless series of events but rather is a series of events orchestrated by a personal God – is that not worse? Consider if a branch falls from a tree and kills your child that is completely different from someone cutting the branch off a tree to land it on your child.

Two aspects to the answer – this world isn’t all that there is, and this world isn’t the way God designed it to be. That doesn’t mean that he is helpless to change it – it just means that the change required is much deeper reaching that we ever imagined. Our world is full of natural disaster and sickness because we are here – God condemned the whole physical universe because of our sin. So if all sickness and suffering and disaster are to be banished, then man will have to be radically dealt with too. We either need to be wiped out, or transformed.

And that is what the Gospel promises. Everyone who comes to Jesus will be transformed, everyone who doesn’t will be punished. And tehn there will be a new earth populated with people who no longer have the ability to sin, and the earth will no longer rebel at our presence or be under God’s curse.

This is what we long for and this is in part what Solomon means when he says, “God has set eternity in our hearts.”

There is a big picture, but you can’t see it v9-11
Solomon expects us to ask this question that’s why he says, “What does the worker gain from his toil?” – this is his way of asking what is the purpose and meaning in life? “I have seen the burden God has laid on the hearts of men” – he means this whole business of the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the fluctuations of life.

And then he answers his own question and he tells us 3 things

There is a big picture and each piece fits

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Solomon is not saying that everything is beautiful in itself, but in its time. Bad things happen to Christian and non-Christian alike. But what Solomon is saying here is that there is a big picture, and each event has its place in that picture. And what God is doing is creating something beautiful. We get glimpses of that even in our own lives, where something has happened to us, it has been hard at the time, but God has used it for good. And when we get to see the pbig picture we will see that everything has its place.

Here is where part of our confidence comes from – it isn’t all haphazard, each event has a purpose and place.

We know instinctively that there is a big picture
Solomon tells us then that we know instinctively that there is a big picture. “He [God] has set eternity in the hearts of men”. Although it’s kind of hard to prove, monkeys, and cats and cows aren’t sitting wondering why things happen to them, or why they are here, or what their purpose is in life. This belongs to mankind. God has wired us in such a way that we know instinctively that there is more to life than this. Someone dies, and we know they have gone, but somehow we feel that they still exist. There is something in us that knows that there is more to life than this. When we see a great evil done, and the perpetrator takes his own life, we instinctively feel that that isn’t fair, that there has to be some form of justice. That’s not just a fond yearning, God has set eternity in our hearts.

Whenever things happen to us we instinctively want to know why – that is part of eternity being set in our hearts – because God is a rational God, and he has made us in his image and because of that we know that there has to be a reason for everything, things don’t just happen at random. So the very act of wanting to know why is a God given instinct.

We feel that in eternity we will see everything evened out. There we will see the big picture.

We can’t see it in this life
Solomon tells us that “no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end”. What he is saying is that although there is a reason for everything, and although we instinctively know that – we don’t actually know the reason.

We don’t get all the answers. And that’s frustrating. In other words, God gives us a desperate thirst for answers to why – but he only ever gives us glimpses of the answers. Now why would he do that? Because he wants us to set off on a search, not just for the answers, but for the answerer. Our big problem isn’t that the world is puzzling, and that we need solutions, our big problem is that we are messed up and we need help.

God’s big aim is that we get to know him. If you don’t have the answer to something, you set out to look for someone who does. And all the questions that we ask find their answer in God.

But more than that God does it because he wants us to trust him. You see even when you become a Christian you don’t get some sort of answer book, its not as if you have become the teachers pet and get the inside track on everything. Solomon says here, “they cannot fathom” that means no-one.

And that’s comforting in a strange way for many times things happen to the Christian adnd we wonder why – why a miscarriage, why an illness, why did I have to spill water on my keyboard when I was writing this sermon and fry my keyboard. How does that fit in to God’s vast eternal plan? And we never get an answer. And the reason is this, God doesn’t just want to satisfy our curiousity, he wants to satisfy our deepest longings. He isn’t going to be treated as some sort of cosmic answer man, but he wants us to trust him and relate to him.

There are times when as a father you have to do things that you can’t explain to your kids, they just don’t have the mental ability to take it all in – the factors are too complex, so you say to them just trust me. That’s what God is doing.

How then should we live? v12-15
3 responses then

Humble yourself and trust God
If the whole point of the ups and downs of life is to bring us to the point where we see that we aren’t as wonderful as we thought we were; and if God has given us this instinctive reaction that we know there is more to life than this, then the thing to do is to humble ourselves and go to this God and say, I can’t cope, I need you.

That’s what v14 is saying, “God does it so that men will revere him.” The whole purpose of it is to bring men and women into a right relationship with God.

And why would that God accept a person who for years has said “I want nothing to do with you?” Ecclesiastes doesn’t tell us, for that we have to go to the New Testament, and we find that Jesus is the one who reconciles men to God. Because Jesus came to bring people back to God, and he did it by taking the blame for all their years of self-rule and putting other things in the place of God.

And this is important because as v15 says God will call the past to account. There will be a day of judgment when all people will see that God is in charge, and that he will punish all who failed to recognise his authority.

And the fact that we are not in control of our own lives as much as we think we are will be that we are totally unable to escape what God has in store for us, unless we have asked Jesus to take the punishment for us.

Live by trusting God
For the Christian the issue of trust isn’t just about starting the Christian life, it is how we live it. Whatever comes to us, we need to realise that our times are in his hands (Psa 31:15)

The Christian is like a mouse who gets to run on the half finished rug on the loom. We can see why some of the colours are there, sometimes we know why some of the blacks are there, but we can’t see the full design yet. And its only in Heaven we will get to see the full design and to understand fully why there are all the colours and shades that make up our lives.

Yet while we are here we need to remember that there is a weaver, and because of Jesus he cares passionately about us.

And where the illustrations break down there is another great truth – for becoming a Christian is like having a personal relationship with the weaver. You still can’t see the whole picture, but you know the weaver and you know that as he weaves the threads into your life, it is out of love and nothing else. And because you know him and you know he loves you, you can trust him with you life, and whatever colours he introduces you take as being from the hand of God.

And in all circumstances the weaver has said I will always weaver what you need into your life – whether it is strength, comfort, courage, my presence. He promises that the ups and downs of the times of our lives will never be so much to swamp us.

There are things we will never fully understand in this life – but we are never to give up on God’s sovereignty.

And because of that it is possible to

Enjoy life as it comes

v12 and 13 Solomon writes “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil, this is the gift of God.”

Once we accept that God is sovereign and we are limited, and put our trust in him through Jesus, then we can know that there is a big picture which will turn out for our best, that we have a personal relationship with the weaver of our lives, and that this plans are not to harm us but to prosper us and to give us a hope and a future.

And this is a gift from God – not something we can earn. And if we let this truth sink down into our lives we will be able to live lives marked by contentment, enjoyment and confidence amid all the tensions of the times that come to us. And this doesn’t mean walking about with inane grins on our faces, but this joy is deep and profound, one that sees the trials instead of ignoring them, but looks to the hand of a gracious father behind them all.

You see, some Christians don’t think this life is to be enjoyed - they look on this life as something to get through – fix your eyes on Heaven, thole life – and you can tell them by the look on their face. Grim determination. Rarely do you see them smile and relish the simple pleasures. Solomon hear only echoes Paul “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God”. There is a joyless Christianity that betrays our Saviour.

But delight in God is our duty – and it is a possibility, “delight yourself in the Lord” Ps 34:7 says, Neh 8:10 says the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

And this is what Ecclesiastes is about, delighting in living for God and under God in a fallen world, delighting because we have a saviour who died for us, a father who loves us and a Holy Spirit who transforms us, delighting because your God is sovereign, and nothing can happen to you except what he permits for good reason. Here is the freedom to enjoy life as God gives it – not always harking back to the past, or looking forward to the future for better times, but enjoying whatever time God has put you in now.

That is a gift of God to those who live under the loom of life but trust the weaver who has laid down his life for them.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:25 - Nowhere to run to

At the 2003 MTV awards show, Johnny Cash’s video “Hurt” was nominated for an award. Cash didn’t win. But the showing of the video caused an almost palpable discomfort in the crowd. The video to the song features haunting images of his youthful glory days—complete with pictures of his friends and colleagues at the height of their fame, now dead.

As the camera pans Cash’s wizened, wrinkled face, he sings about the awful reality of death and the vanity of fame: “What have I become? My sweetest friend/ Everyone I know goes away in the end/ You could have it all/ My empire of dirt.”

“It’s all fleeting,” he told MTV News. “As fame is fleeting, so are all the trappings of fame fleeting; the money, the clothes, the furniture.”

The face of Johnny Cash reminded this generation that he has tasted everything the MTV culture has to offer—and found there a way that leads to death. His creviced face and blurring eyes remind them that there is not enough plastic surgery in all of Hollywood to revive a corpse.

Cash found an alternative to the vanity of shifting celebrity. He found freedom from guilt and the authenticity of the truth in a crucified and resurrected Christ.

(from this article)

Johnny Cash was a modern day Solomon – both had lived the life of celebrity, enjoyed all that this life has to offer and seen through it. And both sat down to write their experiences as a warning for the rest of us.

Are Cash and Solomon cynics and pessimists? No, although this book seems really pessimistic, Solomon is doing us all a favour. He is recording the results of his fouled up life which he lived like an experiment to answer the question – What is life for? What makes my life worthwhile?

He isn’t sitting pondering this in his mind, he writes like Johnny Cash – from a well of experience that he doesn’t want others to plumb. And he tells us four things from the depths of that well

Without God your life is a footprint in sand 1:3-11
v1&2 Solomon introduces himself and his theme. In v3 then he asks a key question

“What does a man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?”

Or “What profit does a man get after all his labour?”

The word profit here is an accounting word, used of an accountant sitting totting up the columns in his book, and he comes to the bottom of the list, and all the costs, and payments have been made – what is left? What has been gained that is of real and lasting profit?

That’s the question Solomon is asking.

He has already given us his answer in v2 – profitless, everything we could do is without lasting profit. And now he seeks to show us that whatever we devote ourselves to is as lasting as a footprint in the sand, washed away by the next wave or blown away by the next breeze.

In v4 he reminds us of the tragedy of death. Life is not profitable because, despite all the toil in life, one day you will have changed nothing on the earth and then you will die. And man who is made of the earth disappears while the earth of which he is made remains constant – almost as a mockery.

Solomon tells us three things about our great lives that we think accomplish so much:

Man himself is fleeting – a footprint in sand
v4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.

One generation enters the earth as another is dying off. Each generation thinking that they will make progress, but the only progress they make is to the grave. And as wave after wave of men, women and children return to the earth, the earth itself remains constant. The earth tramps on regardless – not even pausing to note the passing of great men or women.
Man’s work is fleeting
The earth itself illustrates this futile round of things – the sun rises and sets, and there it is in the mrning again. The rivers do the same, always running, never emptying, you cut the grass and it needs cut next week, you wash the dishes and you turn your back and the sink is full again, you get your hair cut only to need it done again in a few weeks time, you weed the garden only to find the weeds back.

One generation after the other enters the earth frantically moving with all the vigour of a guy on an exercise bicycle peddling like mad and going nowhere. And then we die, and our gardens which we so carefully planted return to the wild, our house which we so carefully kept clean fills with dust – someone else moves in and it is as if we were never there. Even the great civilisations of the Babylonians, the Incas and the Greeks are reclaimed by nature and little remains of the mighty empires.

Man’s innovations are fleeting
Ah but what about people who really make their mark? Who like? Like the guy who invented the Tilly lamp, or the fiddle for sowing corn, or the ram for pumping water from a river to houses uphill. Or what about the guy who invented the Betamax video recorder? Or what about the walkman, the record player, the valve radio, or the indicators that used to pop out on the side of cars.

And the people who invented all these are no more remembered than a footprint in the sand.

There is nothing new under the sun –

v10 Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

But what about nuclear power, or computers, or robotic milking parlours? What are they really but ways to do the same things as before except in bigger and faster ways. The only thing that changes is the scale – more power, faster calculations, bigger herds.

Even the best achievements of man are fleeting.

Man’s remembrance is fleeting
v11 There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.

As a kid my favourite tv programme was record breakers. I loved seeing the attempts to see who could lift the most, eat the most, balance the number of crates on your chin etc. I loved browsing through the Guiness book of World Records. But there is something ultimately depressing about GBWR – old editions sitting in second hand shops. Worthless because they commemorate worthless achievements because the achievements have been surpassed. All that effort and training, all for no avail, the next year someone beats your record. And no one remembers your name.

This is bleak, but ultimately it is right – we are so used to placing ourselves at the centre of the world and thinking that the world rotates around us – but here is a sobering reminder the earth itself pays no attention, and neither ultimately do our fellow man.

Walk along the beach, near the waters edge and watch your footprints dissolve – that’s what you are, a fleeting imprint that is there for a little while and is gone.

Ah, you say, maybe I shouldn’t look to leave a mark then, I should just look to get as much as I can here and now. Solomon tried that, and he found that there is no sufficient replacement for God

There is no sufficient replacement for God 1:12-2:10
In these verses Solomon enters in to a great experiment. He asks himself another question in v3

“I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.”

And so like many people before and since Solomon set out just to enjoy life for all it was worth. And these verses instead of being 3000 years old could be a description of Letterkenny main street on a Saturday. Solomon surrounded himself with comedians v1, he tried alcohol, not getting totally plastered, but enough to have a good time free from inhibition v3, he then went for live bands and music of all descriptions v8, and then sex as much as he wanted as often as he wanted v8 – he had 700 wives and 300 mistresses. v10 There wasn’t anything pleasurable that he skipped out.

And it wasn’t just pleasure that he went for, like so many people before and since he poured himself into his work, amassing property, building great schemes, both business and farming, gathering money, so much that it says in 1 Kings 10 that silver was as common as stone.

Whatever there was to do this guy did it – whether pleasure or work.

You see our problem is that there are very few people in the world who have the time or the money to pursue pleasure or work as far as they want. And so the myth persists that if only I was a little richer, or a little more successful, or a little more attractive, or had some more land, or some more brains, then I would be happy.

So mankind persists in chasing a lost cause. And we don’t stop to listen to the voices of those who have been there, Solomon, Johnny Cash, or even Robbie Williams – who once he got to the height of his fame found that fame and money still left him feeling empty inside.

It is the despair that Solomon voices 2:11

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

v 17
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

As Scottish band Del Amitri said, “The disappointment of success hangs from your shoulders like a hand-me-down dress.”

What Solomon wants us to see is that none of these things, nor anything else is a sufficient replacement for God.

You see this is what sin is – so often we think of sin as being doing wrong things, but at its heart lies this – putting something else in the number one place in our hearts. Sin is basing your life on anything but God. That’s what the first commandment is – you shall have no other gods before me. Sin is taking even a good thing and making it into the ultimate, building your identity around a thing rather than God. So if you make as the main source of your happiness in life your self-esteem, your farm, your success, your looks, your goals, the approval of others, your children, anything – if you say If I had that, or did that, or achieved that I’d be happy – what is it that you want more than anything else – if that isn’t God then you are doing what Solomon did. Except he got what he aimed for because he had enough money and enough time on his hands – and still he said it doesn’t satisfy.

These things, the search for self esteem, riches, approval, success, whatever will drive you into the ground, if you get what you want it will disappoint you, if you fail to get what you desire it will crush you.

These things are not a sufficient replacement for God, because Jesus is the only master who satisfies, and when you fail him, he is the only one that will die for you to make you right again. And you can see that yourselves – ask the question what use are any of these things when the great trials of life arise?

Young people here is a guy who has had it all, standing before you today pleading with you to set your heart o God, because all else fails.

The thing to realise is that your heart is an idol factory – even for the Christian – constantly inventing things for you to put in the place of God. And Solomon says to you – all of them will disappoint you in the end.

So our significance and meaning are not to be found in making a mark on the world, or in living life to the max. As Solomon says in v23 – All this is meaningless – unprofitable, empty. Solomon isn’t being cycnical or pessimistic he is being utterly realistic because he wants us to see that:

Without God, despair is the only honest alternative 2:11-2:23
It is a very clever book – Solomon is setting out to drive people to despair. Not out of cynicism, but out of love. He has lived this life, now in his old age, broken by his sin, having seen the effects it has had on his kingdom, he writes with a repentant heart to warn people of the dangers of following the idol factory of our hearts. He knows that most people don’t get to see the emptiness of life until it is too late, they aren’t rich enough or successful enough to see that the path they are on falls of the edge of a cliff. But Solomon has been to the brink and comes back to tell us.

But he isn’t the only one to see it. An atheistic philosopher once said, “Suicide is the only sensible option, but few have the courage to take it.” And he is right if all there is to life is be born live, die. If there is nothing to live for, and if disease, disappointment, depression, and doubt along with break up of relationships, family and natural disasters can strike anyone in random fashion then he argued what’s the point of going on?

That is precisely the force of this opening section of Ecclesiastes. Without God despair is the only honest alternative. There is a dishonest alternative – to bury your head in the sand and shout, “I don’t believe you.”

And as I have said before those who are on the brink of suicide and depression sometimes see life most clearly. We all think that they are deluded when they ask “What’s the point? What’s the point in getting a job and then working for a lifetime when you’re only going to die? How do you know that someone will love me and be there for me, how do you know that things will get better? This world just rolls on and misses no one, so I’ll not be missed.”. But at a deep level they see things more clearly, they have stood on the brink and seen what Solomon has seen. And the vast majority of life just gets on with life, getting hopelessly lost in the boring repetitiveness of life with all its trivialities – pretending that the big questions don’t exist.

Well they do exist, and Solomon wants us to look at them, so he launches his attack to destroy the false optimism that people cling to.

And what Solomon is saying is that this despair is vital. If you haven’t come to that point of despair – either about your own state before God, or about life in general, where you know that you don’t have the answers and that you can’t help yourself, and that you know that nothing in this life can either – then you aren’t going to see life as it really is. Jesus job is to show you the meaninglessness of life apart from him. Like Paul in Phil 4:8 – I consider all things dung without Christ – because all things are dung without Christ.

And so if you are not a Christian and things are going wrong in your life – God is teaching you. He is forcing you to look at life and see what your priorities are, to see what has claimed the place that belongs to him. What is most important to you? See that unless you have a relationship with God you will fill your life with all sorts of stuff to fill the emptiness, and then you will grow to hate the stuff because it ultimately lets you down.

But where the atheist philosopher had no answer, and where our hearts cry out and override our minds and say, “But there has to be more to it than this” Solomon doesn’t stop – he points us to an answer.

With God there is meaning purpose and joy 2:24-26
That’s where he brings us to in v24-26.

He doesn’t stop with meaninglessness. He tells us that enjoyment itself and making sense of this world, and finding a way to understand life, to have happiness amid the monotony of life, and the hurt of life is a gracious gift of God.

v24 reads more literally “There is nothing good in a man that he should eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.”

In and of ourselves there is nothing, absolutely nothing that we deserve. It’s all a free gift from God. And so even when those who aren’t Christians enjoy things in life – this too is a message from God. He is seeking by his kindness to draw you to him. CS Lewis said “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our consciences, but shouts to us in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God has given you that in grace.

What Solomon is saying is that when we make wisdom, knowledge or happiness our chief aim, we get meaninglessness, but when we make God our goal it is then that we get wisdom, knowledge and joy given to us, because this pleases God.

This is quite simply the gospel – give God his proper place, and he will freely reward you – not because you earned it, but as a gift of his grace. Free, the ability to enjoy life with God at the centre is a gift that God gives. You can’t earn it.

Push God off the throne, and you may get short term pleasure in this life, but you will find that it has been of no profit to your soul. Restore God to his rightful place, and you will find that no matter what life throws at you, you will see a meaning and a purpose – and that will give you a deep contentment even amidst the trials.

Christian friends, pushing God off his throne isn’t just something non-Christians do. We know Jesus is king, but we still find ourselves putting other things in the place where he should be. And when we do we find ourselves getting discouraged and down – and that’s because things or people can’t sustain hat weight of expectation, they will let us down. And so even when our heads ell us that we know Jesus is first we find ourselves discouraged because we have low self esteem, or because we don’t feel as appreciated as we want, or because we are saying “If only I had this, or if only I was like this, then it would be so much different”. And we have made exactly the same mistake. We have tried to find our meaning, value self worth, in acceptance, success, possessions, love of something, or someone other than Jesus.

And in the low points Jesus is our teacher, even more than Solomon is and he comes and says, You’ve pushed me off my throne, you need to find yourself in a deep love relationship with me, and then you will have meaning and joy and esteem, and love, and in me you will have success, and position far more than this world can measure.