Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind… So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:14 & 8:15
A few months ago, I attended a family wedding. Because of coronavirus restrictions, we did so virtually. But that did not stop us dressing in our best clothes. It was a wonderful wedding with a great sermon. But one line uttered by the preacher raised a question in my mind. Noting the accomplishments of these two bright young people, he declared that they were ‘smashing life’.
In a way, the preacher was right – both partners were well on their way up the ladders of their respective professions, even though they were only in their mid-twenties. But I wondered how the notion that life is something we need to master, to control, fitted the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes.
While the book of Proverbs is confident life will go well for the wise, the preacher in Ecclesiastes observes that this is not always the case. He argues, in fact, that life is a mystery, an enigma that is beyond understanding and control. As evidence, he cites the relentless passing of time, the inevitability of death, and the apparent randomness of life outcomes. Because of all this, the human drive to achieve is as futile as trying to grasp vapour or smoke – it is like chasing after wind.
For the preacher in Ecclesiastes, the wisdom that accepts that life is ultimately out of human control is the wisdom that rejoices in the ordinary everyday round of work and leisure: ‘So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil.’
Instead of fretful activity, this preacher seems to be saying, we should live in the present moment, accepting the rough and the smooth of life as gifts. For true beauty lies in the vulnerability and fragility of life, in part because they stimulate trust in God and in his judgement. This frees human beings to live lives of integrity and enjoy life’s ordinary pleasures of friendship, family, and community.
Wisdom, it seems, is not the ability to ‘smash’ life, nor to solve its conundrums, but so to trust in God’s wisdom that we live lives of joy and contentment. This may not make our frontlines any easier, but it does spare us from seeking mastery over them, only to find that we’ve been grasping at the wind.
Peter S Heslam
Peter is director of Faith in Business, Cambridge.
Given that life is fragile and unpredictable, how do you resist fretful activity and instead practise trust in God and contentment in life’s ordinary pleasures? Join the conversation here.