On Monday I started to read Ecclesiastes. I have always regarded this as a rather enigmatic book with a bit of a one-dimensional message. The central word is “meaning”. So My meditation yesterday went something like this: “Meaning – you understand correctly – real meaning can only be found in a relationship with Me. Walk closely to Me and My grace will cover you – if you run ahead or lag behind, move too far to the left or to the right you will be coming near to the outskirts of My grace. You need to understand all the tests you are experiencing are there to teach you, among others to be truly humble, depending entirely on Me and to stay close to me where my grace is in abundance”.
Now some words and a few thoughts about Ecclesiastes that I have learned, discovering, in the process that this is a hugely exciting book, probably little read and much misunderstood. Firstly I discovered that Ecclesiastes was written against the background of the narrow cofines of the Israeli theology of the time. We see some of that in Job by the narrow observations of his friends. The tendency then and I believe just as much now, is to place God in a theological box. That box looks different for different people, denominations and periods in history. the desire of man is to be able to “understand” the God they “believe in”. Because that leaves them sort of feeling safe. But they don’t realize how much they are missing and what bondage that places them in.
This speaks to me loudly as I have for some years been coming to realize that, in trying to “understand” God completely we limit Him to fit our small minds and understanding. The amazing thing is that once you can see past this you come to realize how little we really know about Him. That He is far more mysterious than we can ever imagine. Yes He has chosen to reveal Himself to us but much are seeing is through a glass darkly. The picture is beautiful, slightly hazy, enveloped in swirling mist, sometimes sharp shafts of light flashing through the mist, at other times a dark cloud covering our vision. (The Greek adjective translated as darkly is “ainigma”. Recognize that?). So Ecclesiastes addresses that enigma who is our God and helps us to see that there is much we don’t understand about God, but that mysteriousness only makes Him more attractive, it should not frighten us.
So lets just look at one or two ideas from ch 4 as an example: the chapter opens with this sombre picture of people who are oppressed and it is almost better never to have lived than to live in such a violent, unequal, bullying, corrupt, evil society. But then something jumps out at me: twice in vs 1 there is a phrase “and they have no comforter”. That set me thinking – In John 14:16 Jesus says “I will ask the Father and He will send another Counselor (Comforter). The word translated as Counselor in the NIV is often rather translated as Comforter. It is the Greek word Paracletos. One who comes by our side to act as a counselor, strengthen us, advising us, leading us – the full work of the Holy Spirit. But notice something first. God must send another
Comforter. Why another? well Jesus comes as the first and foremost comforter. But do you see what the preacher in Ecclesiastes is saying? The world on its own is totally lost, there is no comforter, but God has sent the prime Comforter Jesus and after Jesus the Holy Spirit to carry on His work. Notice though, the prime work of Jesus is to die on the cross to deal with the sin, the very oppression that the Preacher is speaking about that makes society so hopeless that it is better never to have lived. The Holy Spirit cannot exercise a work on His own without Jesus’ work first. Comfort is not just putting your arm around someone and telling them “never mind”. Their deepest problem needs to be dealt with first.
But what about us? Yes we receive the benefit of His comfort, but we have a role too…… Look at 2 Corinthians 1:3,4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God”. Friends this message from Paul is very explicit. He and others had suffered severely and in the midst of that they had been comforted. Now their ministry, and ours is, to use the experiences we have had in suffering and hardship, to the benefit of others in their hardship. We are the next generation of comforters, God has made provision in His world so that it is not without comforters. Are you fulfilling that role?
I wanted to speak about the section in Ch 4 of Eccl vss 7-12. That has a very meaningful message which is often wrongly interpreted. Why don’t you, with Jesus, the Comforter’s help set your mind to it and I will write about it in the next day or two.