Living in an Absurd World (Part 1)
Sermon Text: Ecclesiastes 7:15-29
Sermon Theme: How are we to live in an absurd world?
Chapter 7 continues with two reflections on wisdom. The first points out that wisdom and righteousness do not guarantee blessing, and so he advises a moderate approach to wisdom. The second indicates that no matter how much one desires wisdom, it is ultimately beyond human grasp. Finally, the section concludes with the confession that Solomon’s search yielded no major breakthroughs. He looked diligently, but all he found was a corrupt humanity seeking its own desires. For no righteous man is wholly righteous. To aim at so lofty an ideal will be to attempt “to be too strict and straitlaced, too hard on one who wants to do as well as he can”—we shall only fail if we make the attempt; we shall be grievously disappointed if we expect other men to succeed where we have failed; we shall lose faith in them, and in ourselves; we shall suffer many pangs of shame, remorse, and defeated hope and therefore, it is well at once to make up our minds that we are, and need be, no better than our neighbors (i.e. worldly culture), that we are not to blame ourselves for customary and occasional slips; that, if we are but moderate, we may lay one hand on righteousness and another on wickedness without taking much harm. A most immoral moral, though it is as popular today as it ever was. The only course Solomon can recommend is to fear God. This is the bottom line on which one can achieve the only “security” possible. Both general attitudes (fear and reverence) and detailed application (wisdom) are required if the right path between moral legalism and moral indifference is to be maintained, no matter one’s fate which is beyond our control.
- Since Solomon believed that no one can be consistently righteous, why try for it to the point of frustration? This attitude seems far from God’s admonition in Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
- Are you searching for wisdom reflectively and self-consciously?
- Our wisdom and knowledge have limitations that God has imposed on each of us as to what of existence we understand and know the why. Do are desires to exceed our limitations cause us to be frustrated?
- Are you quite content to be no better than your neighbors (i.e. worldly culture) and to let conscience sulk herself into a sweeter mood?
- Is your wisdom used to emphasis careful listening and prudent speech?
- Are we called for honest exertion in wisdom as in justice — serious efforts and not just pretense?
- Is wisdom much more important than other human qualities and abilities?
Do you fear the Lord such that you can “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24)? You can be very painful and diligent in watching your own heart and striving against sin. So there is all manner of corruption in the heart continually ready to work yet you can very laboriously watch and strive again corruptions and it is in your power with great diligence to attend the matter of your duty towards God and towards your neighbor. If there was no difficulties in seeking righteousness, there would be no occasion for striving; a man would have nothing to strive about. Earnestness of mind and diligence of endeavor tend to promote each other. He that has a heart earnestly engaged will take pains; and he that is diligent and painful in all duties, probably will not be so long before he finds a sensibleness of his heart and earnestness of his spirit greatly increased. For we are willing to seek earthly things, of trifling value, with great diligence, and through much difficulty; it therefore certainly becomes us to seek that with great earnestness which of greater worth and excellency – Jesus Christ. Some may object, that if they are earnest, and take a great deal of pains, they shall be in danger of trust in what they do; they are afraid of doing their duty for fear of making a righteousness of it.
(From The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards)
The following are from “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture” (29 Vols):
TOTAL LOVE IS RESERVED FOR GOD ALONE. (By Origen): Neither those who love too much nor those who hate, abide by the rule of truth. The former lie through love; the latter lie through hatred. It is right to place a bridle even on charity and to permit it freedom to roam only insofar as it does not rush headlong over a cliff. Scripture says, in Ecclesiastes, “Do not be righteous in excess, nor think yourself more than you are, lest perhaps you should be struck dumb.” Following this, I can say something similar. Do not love a man “with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with all your strength.” Do not love an angel “with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with all your strength.” In accord with the Savior’s words, keep this command in respect to God alone. For, he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with all your strength.”
WHAT DISPLEASES GOD SHOULD ALSO DISPLEASE US. (By Augustine): Let us be displeased with ourselves when we sin, because sins displease God. And because we are not in fact without sin, let us at least be like God in this respect, that what displeases him displeases us. Now you are displeased with that in yourself which he also hates who made you. He designed and constructed you; but take a look at yourself and eliminate from yourself everything that does not come from his workshop. For God, as it says, “created man upright.”
EVIL IS EXTRANEOUS TO OUR CREATION. (By Bede): Our struggle against the vices has not been naturally implanted in us by God our Father and Creator but is proved to have befallen us from our love of this world, which we preferred to our Creator. For God made human beings upright, and they have involved themselves in endless questions, as Solomon bears witness. Hence James also says, “Let no one, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not the instigator of evil, for he himself tempts no one. Each one, in fact, is tempted, drawn on and lured by his own concupiscence.” (James 1:13-15)
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