Monday, September 27, 2010

Wisdom in Adversity



Part 9 of a series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 7:1-14


THE CROOKEDNESS OF LIFE


Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him (vv. 13-14).
  • Life is full of twists and turns. "What is crooked cannot be made straight" (1:15). Life is like a winding road through the forest. We don’t know what might be around the next turn. There could be a moose standing in the middle of the road. Or the road might be clear. But we don't know. Only God knows.
  • There will be days of prosperity and days of adversity.
  • We need wisdom to navigate through the crookedness of life. Wisdom, like money, is helpful during times of difficulty (vv. 11-12).

GOOD BAD DAYS

In the DC comics universe there’s a cube-shaped planet called Bizarro World (also known as Htrae, "earth" spelled backwards). In Bizarro World, society is ruled by the Bizarro Code, which states, "Us do opposite of all earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!" As you read Ecclesiastes 7, you might think you've entered Bizarro World ("the day of death [is better] than the day of birth"; "it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting"; "sorrow is better than laughter").

A wise person can turn bad days into good days.

1. A wise person knows that bad days can build character.

A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth (v. 1).

A good reputation can be gained or lost during days of adversity. Job is an example of someone who, even today, has a good name because of how he handled adversity.

Satan thought that adversity would cause Job to turn his back on God. "Then Satan answered the LORD and said, 'Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face'" (Job 1:9-11).

But Satan was wrong. "And Job said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD'" (Job 1:21). Job's wife, on the other hand, reacted as Satan thought Job would. "Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die'" (Job 2:9). Many people are only willing to follow God as long as it's easy. Job rebuked his wife for her foolishness. "But he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?'" (Job 2:10).

Perhaps the greatest way to be a witness for Christ is to remain faithful to Him in the midst of intense suffering. "Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast [persevered]. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job…" (James 5:11).

2. A wise person knows that bad days can change faulty priorities.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart (v. 2).

Is it better to go to a funeral than a wedding? In some ways, yes. Every funeral we attend reminds us that one day there will be a funeral for us. We are confronted with the reality that life is "vanity" (a vapor). A funeral encourages us to live as though we are dying. "Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).

"By the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better" (v. 3 KJV). "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:25). Laughter is often a diversion from reality. "Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret" (2 Corinthians 7:10). "Repentance" is sorrow for sin. It is better to mourn now than later.

3. A wise person knows that bad days can provide valuable lessons.

It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools (v. 5).

"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid" (Proverbs 12:1). Being rebuked is a form of adversity. But the "rebuke of the wise" (constructive criticism) is more profitable than the flattery of fools.

Adversity can make us bitter or better (Job and his wife).

Some lessons cannot be learned during days of prosperity. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect [mature] and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

4. A wise person knows that bad days can produce good surprises.

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit (v. 8).

In the book of Genesis, Joseph’s worst day turned into his best day. "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (50:20). Patience is required. Joseph remained faithful to God even though he faced one form of adversity after another. But it's easy to complain (long for the "former days," v. 10).

"We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).