Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ecclesiastes: The Last Word

“And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Dueteronomy 10:12)

“Dear friends, let's cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit by becoming mature in our holy fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

Ecclesiastes is a sobering book, but I think it's an important one as we try to navigate our way through life.

We have the opportunities to pursue the same hollow gods Solomon followed for a time.  Money, sex, power, fame - we can try them all if we want to.

There are plenty of pessimistic world views we can embrace during the times we feel that "all is vanity."  I've been there. I know what it's like to struggle to see meaning and purpose in them midst of pain and disillusionment.

"Fear and reverence God," said Solomon. "Let God’s commandments guide you through life. That’s the secret to life."

I have a lot more yet to understand about the importance of fearing God, but while reading Ecclesiastes this time I was struck by a new insight (at least for me):  All of us will fear something – it’s part of our human nature on this side of heaven.  But there is only one thing we can fear that can also save us, and that’s God. The very things that can scare us about God– His power, His holiness, His purity, His Presence- are the only things that can save us.

There is a scene in Peter Jackson's King Kong where the blond damsel in distress is being pursued by a couple very hungry T-Rex's.  Her only hope is Kong.

She's terrified of him - he's strong beyond belief, wild, unpredictable, and determined to have his way.  But when the last T-Rex begins stalking her in an open field, she has to decide where she will find help.  So she goes into the shadow of Kong, the only one big enough to save her.

The things that terrified her are the things that made him worthy of her trust.

What do you fear?

Our fears will impact what we revere and  how we worship.  It will even determine the "commandments" we keep.  I have feared sickness - specifically cancer - since my dad died.  If I die when he did, I have 14 years left. I have feared irrelevance since he died, perhaps because his life ended while we was struggling to work his way out of a vocational chasm.  

I eventually realized that those fears were driving me to keep the Commandments of the Afraid.  I fixated on anything that went wrong with my health; I worked harder than ever to matter.  I discovered that health and relevance are not only tough gods to please, but they are incapable of saving me. 
What we fear matters.

Do you fear Unhappiness? You will revere or worship happiness, and try to keep the Commandments of the Happy: Thou shalt never be bored; thou shalt never never do stuff you don’t want to. And when you feels unhappy, you try to hold to these false commandments even harder. Happiness is hard taskmaster.

Do you fear Poverty? The commandments of the rich will control you. In Wall Street we trust, and we panic when we lose a AAA rating, as if that rating will make our lives good.

Do you fear Loneliness? The commandments of the Noticed control you. Reality TV is easy to make fun of, but a lot of people who don’t get on TV will do anything to be seen.

Do you fear Sickness? The commandments of health gurus control you. I am astonished at how we follow fad after fad for one less wrinkle and an extra year of life.

Do you fear Death? The commandments of mortality control you.  Eat just right; take these supplements at just the right time; put your faith in medicine and science to give you just a little more time. 

If any of these fears are yours, you are in the middle of Ecclesiastes, not the end.  You will obey the commands of the moneymakers, the attention-grabbers, the health gurus. They will all fail you.  It’s all hebel.
It’s fun to be happy, but that’s not our goal.

It’s nice to be wealthy, but that won’t save us.

It’s great to popular, or entertained, but that’s only temporary.

It’s important to be sobered by the shortness of life, but it’s not meant to control us.

God alone deserves my fear.  

And when sickness, death, and irrelevance stalk me across the open plains of my life, only God deserves my trust as I run to him even though I fear him.  God alone holds the power of life and death. God alone gives a foundation to my purpose.  God alone - whose strength, holiness, and justice frighten me - is the one who also offers grace, peace, and mercy. 

I don't need health, fame, money, power, sex, and pleasure to have a good life (though I am a fan of them all in their proper place). 

In the midst of ordinary life - driving to work, playing with my kids, cleaning the house with my wife, catching  my dog, going to the gym, attending weddings and funerals, pounding nails, painting houses, mowing my yard, teaching and preaching, laughing and weeping with those who need celebration and comfort - I can fear God and keep his commandments.


  1. A very thought provoking series of commentary. I was especially challenged by this last one when assessing what it is that I fear. I can see how my fears become idols that distract me and cause me to doubt the only one whom I should fear and trust... Christ.

    "Only God deserves my trust as I run to him even though I fear him. God alone holds the power of life and death. God alone gives a foundation to my purpose. God alone - whose strength, holiness, and justice frighten me - is the one who also offers grace, peace, and mercy."

    This is encouraging.

  2. I do feel a little bit cheated though that there is nothing on chapters 7 through 10.