perspective

Thanksgiving and National Harmony

As we approach this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, many people are thankful the presidential election is over. Not everyone is happy about the outcome, as evidenced by protests in some cities.

Some, maybe most of us, are just glad this contentious presidential campaign finally came to an end. Now we wait to see what the next year will bring.

Life Before Death

People have differing views of destiny. Some see it as set in stone. Others challenge what seems to be their fate throughout life. I'm sure there are those who try to ignore it altogether.

It's been said that the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. I don't know if taxes are that certain, but death claims us all. We just don't know when and how, not that most of us want to know.

Whatever your thoughts about destiny or taxes, death is certain. But, there is life before death.

Scripture

Now, I have carefully thought about all this, and I explain it in this way: Righteous people and wise people, along with their accomplishments, are in God’s hands. No one knows whether there will be love or hatred. Everything turns out the same way for everyone. All people will share the same destiny, whether they are righteous, wicked, or good, clean or unclean, whether they offer sacrifices or don’t offer sacrifices. Good people are treated like sinners. People who take oaths are treated like those who are afraid to take oaths. [vss 1-2]

This is the tragedy of everything that happens under the sun: Everyone shares the same destiny. Moreover, the hearts of mortals are full of evil. Madness is in their hearts while they are still alive. After that, they join the dead. But all who are among the living have hope, because a living dog is better than a dead lion. The living know that they will die, but the dead don’t know anything. There is no more reward for the dead when the memory of them has faded. Their love, their hate, and their passions have already vanished. They will never again take part in anything that happens under the sun. [vss 3-6]

Go, enjoy eating your food, and drink your wine cheerfully, because God has already accepted what you’ve done. Always wear clean clothes, and never go without lotion on your head. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, during all your brief, pointless life. God has given you your pointless life under the sun. This is your lot [in life] and what you get for the hard work that you do under the sun. Whatever presents itself for you to do, do it with [all] your might, because there is no work, planning, knowledge, or skill in the grave where you’re going. [vss 7-10]

(Ecclesiastes 9:1-10 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 9]

Key phrase—A living dog is better than a dead lion

[bctt tweet="A living dog is better than a dead lion"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How is the state of death a great equalizer of people?

Why is it (death) the destiny of all people, whether good or bad?

Since death is certain for all, what are we encouraged to do?

How are we to go about life's work and for what reason?

Reflection...

The book of Ecclesiastes may seem like a discouraging and depressing outlook on life, but it's quite the opposite. King Solomon's purpose is to help people have a more clear perspective on life. Even though life may seem pointless and hard, there are reasons to live life with joy.

Another way to put it is—life is short, so enjoy it while it lasts. Put your heart into your relationships and work, because God is sovereign and He holds our eternal destiny in His hands.

There's no need to obsess with what you can't control—death. Make the best of what you have some control over—life.

Don't forget that there is a season and purpose to everything in life (Eccl 3:1). Life with all it's hardships and mysteries has value and beauty, so enjoy it while you can, while your alive.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

What do you worry about? Does the thought of death paralyze or motivate you?

How do you handle what is beyond your control? Do you obsess over it, or ignore it, or see beyond it?

Are you thankful for the life you do have? Are you able to live above life's difficulties?

In what ways have you learned to make the most of your time each day?

A Glimpse of Eternity

Would you like to live forever? Lots of research goes into extending life and being healthy. What age do you hope to live to? I'm not so sure I want to reach 100. I've seen the adjustments I need to make as I grow older, and it isn't always fun.

But I do long for eternity, just not in this physical body. Life can be hard when we look at it too closely. When we're zeroed in on what we do work-wise, it can be self-defeating. We need a sense of hope beyond the routine of life, or the walls begin to close in on us.

Why do we have this desire to live a long life? Why do we want to know the future? Could it be that eternity is planted in our hearts?

Scripture

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.[vss 9-11]

So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can.And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.[vss 12-13]

And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again. [vss 14-15]

I also noticed that under the sun there is evil in the courtroom. Yes, even the courts of law are corrupt! I said to myself, “In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds.” [vss 16-17]

(Ecclesiastes 3:9-17 NLT) [Context– Ecclesiastes 3]

Key phrase— He has planted eternity in the human heart

[bctt tweet="God has planted eternity in the human heart"]

Digging Deeper...

How do these verses reflect the continuing tone of this book of wisdom?

What is said that counters this circular and cynical tone? How can these opposing thoughts exist at the same time?

Why would God want people to fear Him? What do you think is meant by this?

What are we told God will do concerning what is good and evil? When will this happen?

Reflection...

The continuing theme of Ecclesiastes is the attempt to answer the question—What's the purpose of life? The tone of the words is mostly cynical, and yet, thoughts of contentment are inserted intermittently.

Many philosophers have lived and died pondering this question of life's purpose, often without resolve. The quest of answers and adventure spurs research and exploration beyond what we know already. And yet, the cycles and seasons of life continue on and on.

A number of years ago, a missionary wrote a book based on research into the culture, beliefs, and history of people groups spread across the globe. He found recurring themes of experience and visions of expectations. He observed that, indeed, God planted eternity in the hearts of humanity.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

Are you able to see God's beauty in your life, the life of others, and the world around you?

Do you find contentment in simple ways to help you navigate life's routines and difficulties?

Do you have a longing for the truth and a sense of hope? If not, do you know where to turn to get these?

How can respect and awe for God help us handle the anxieties and doubts that rise up in our hearts and minds?

A Right Time for Everything

In ancient days, people thought the world was flat. It was imagined that ships on the ocean would fall off the edge of the world, if they went too far from land. Many explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries proved this wrong.

But now, once again, we say the world is flat because of technology. Now we have a global outlook that impacts world markets and culture. We live in 24/7 real-time and expect things to be instant—the internet, communication, even food.

But the world isn't flat. The four seasons and twenty-four time zones remind us the earth continues to rotate on its axis, as it revolves around the sun. The earth has definition and variety—mountains, deserts, plains, and valleys. Vast stretches of land are separated by rivers and oceans.

Life is full of variety and continuing cycles and seasons.

Scripture

There is a right time for everything, and everything on earth will happen at the right time.There is a time to be born and a time to die. There is a time to plant and a time to pull up plants. [vss 1-2]

There is a time to kill and a time to heal. There is a time to destroy and a time to build. There is a time to cry and a time to laugh. There is a time to be sad and a time to dance with joy. There is a time to throw weapons down and a time to pick them up. There is a time to hug someone and a time to stop holding so tightly. [vss 3-5]

There is a time to look for something and a time to consider it lost. There is a time to keep things and a time to throw things away. There is a time to tear cloth and a time to sew it. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. There is a time to love and a time to hate. There is a time for war and a time for peace. [vss 6-8]

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ERV) [Context– Ecclesiastes 3]

Key phrase— There is a right time for everything

[bctt tweet="There is a right time for everything"]

Digging Deeper...

What are the first and obvious reminders of the cycles of life on earth?

What are the seasons of life that have a more emotional impact on our lives?

How are strife and resolve seen as seasons within life?

How do each of these seasons and cycles help us to have a better perspective on life?

Reflection...

The folk-rock band, the Byrds, made these verses in Ecclesiastes popular in 1965 with a song written by Pete Seeger. It was written as a protest song against the war in Vietnam. Sadly, this misses the point of these wise words.

King Solomon observed the ongoing rhythms of life on earth. Life is not random. It has a cyclical order. We may struggle to see the purpose of these seasons of life, because we're in the midst of them. Even over the course of a lifetime, we can find it difficult to understand why some things take place, or if they have any value or purpose.

When we look at things from God's perspective—an eternal view of things—we begin to understand. How can we do this? This is why the written Scriptures are valuable, as are godly and wise relationships.

A child has no concept of history or the future, but both of these should come into better focus as we grow older. There is a purpose, a reason, for every season and cycle in life.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

Are there seasons in your life that are hard to accept or understand?

What is the season of your life right now? Do you see its value and purpose?

Are there situations in your life that need resolving? How will you pursue this?

Are you willing to trust God with what you don't understand, and seek godly wisdom?

What's the Point?

Cynicism is easy to cultivate. It's a defiant mindset somewhat like a self-preservation tactic. It's not hopelessness, but a sense that life is pointless. That's my take on it.

I'm prone to become cynical until I realize where it leads me. Personally, I see cynicism as an attitude of pride—I know better than others, but I don't care. Perhaps I'm overstating it, but that's how I see it.

Nihilist philosophy is like cerebral cynicism. Its answer to the question of the meaning of life is another question, "What's the point?" This may seem like an oversimplification, but this is the tone of Ecclesiastes—King Solomon's philosophical lament. But hold on! Some valuable insights can be drawn from this apparently cynical observation of life.

Scripture

Neither the wise person nor the fool will be remembered for long, since both will be forgotten in the days to come. Both the wise person and the fool will die. So I came to hate life because everything done under the sun seemed wrong to me. Everything was pointless. [It was like] trying to catch the wind. I came to hate everything for which I had worked so hard under the sun, because I will have to leave it to the person who replaces me. Who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? He will still have control over everything under the sun for which I worked so hard and used my wisdom. Even this is pointless. [vss 16-19]

Then I fell into despair over everything for which I had worked so hard under the sun. Here is someone who had worked hard with wisdom, knowledge, and skill. Yet, he must turn over his estate to someone else, who didn’t work for it. Even this is pointless and a terrible tragedy. What do people get from all of their hard work and struggles under the sun? Their entire life is filled with pain, and their work is unbearable. Even at night their minds don’t rest. Even this is pointless. [vss 20-23]

There is nothing better for people to do than to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in their work. I saw that even this comes from the hand of God. Who can eat or enjoy themselves without God? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to anyone who pleases him. But to the person who continues to sin, he gives the job of gathering and collecting [wealth]. The sinner must turn his wealth over to the person who pleases God. Even this is pointless. [It’s like] trying to catch the wind. [vss 24-26]

(Ecclesiastes 2:16-26 GW) [Context– Ecclesiastes 2]

Key phrase— Who can eat or enjoy themselves without God?

[bctt tweet="Who can eat or enjoy themselves without God?"]

Digging Deeper...

What is the life situation that causes King Solomon to view life as pointless?

Why does he come to this conclusion, and how does this effect his outlook on life?

What conclusion does all of this thinking bring Solomon to realize?

How does this realization bring a better perspective and value to life?

Reflection...

The problem of cynicism is what it leads to—a dead end. Why? Because pride—self-exaltation—leads us into an isolated and introspective mindset. In other words, we can't see beyond our self.

Every human being—all life on earth—has a time-limited life span. Even the time we think we have can be cut short. So, if our whole world revolves around ourself as the central most important thing in the world, then life can appear pointless.

Solomon's realization of what brings satisfaction—the existence and presence of God—changed his view of life. It brought him to view life from a different perspective. He saw a continuity to life beyond himself.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again to consider and answer the following questions

What are the things that cause you to lose sight of the value of life?

What (or who) is most important in your life? Does it help you see beyond yourself, or make you more self-focused?

How does acknowledging God's existence help you have a better outlook on life?

What are specific ways you can view life beyond yourself?