Monday, October 4, 2010

Making Sense of Life's Perplexities



Part 10 of a series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Text: 7:15-29

TWO PERPLEXING QUESTIONS

In my vain [brief] life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing (v. 15).

The Preacher says in verse 14 that God has made both "the day of prosperity" and "the day of adversity." In a world ruled by God, shouldn’t we expect a "righteous man" to experience only days of prosperity and a "wicked man" only days of adversity? Isn't this what God promised? "You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess" (Deuteronomy 5:33). "My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity" (Proverbs 3:1-2 NIV).

But what about Abel? He was the first person to die, murdered by his older brother Cain. He was righteous, yet he died at an early age. And Cain, who was wicked, lived many more years. How is that fair?

Consider the suffering of Job. Job didn't suffer because he was a wicked man. "Job was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil" (Job 1:1). However, Job's "friends" assumed that his suffering was caused by personal sin. Eliphaz said to Job, "Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same" (Job 4:7-8). In the end, we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7), but, in this life, that’s not always true.

Suffering is not always directly related to wickedness, and prosperity is not always directly related to righteousness. Sometimes wicked people prosper, and righteous people suffer.

So we are faced with two perplexing questions:
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Why do good things happen to bad people?
Even the authors of Scripture struggled with these questions. "Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?" (Jeremiah 12:1). "You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallow up the man more righteous than he?" (Habakkuk 1:13). "Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning" (Psalm 73:12-14).

AVOIDING TWO EXTREMES

Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? ...the one who fears God shall come out from both of them (vv. 16-18).

As we struggle with the perplexing questions of suffering and prosperity, we are danger of falling into one of two extremes: (1) trying harder in an attempt to force God's hand ("super righteousness") or (2) giving up and pursuing wickedness. "The man who fears God will avoid all extremes" (NIV).
  • Don’t be arrogant in your righteousness.
  • Don’t be deliberate in your wickedness.
THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins (v. 20).

See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes (v. 29).
  • God’s sovereignty is not the problem.
  • Our sinfulness is the problem.
Adam and Eve were created "upright." But they believed Satan's scheme to disobey God's command, so that they could become "like God." Satan said to Eve, "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). This scheme failed miserably. Adam and Eve's sin brought pain, suffering, and death into the world. "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6).

God is not to blame for the wickedness in the world. However, this does not solve the problem of v. 15. When a righteous person dies, it's not because he was a worse sinner than others.

THE HEART OF GOD

All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, "I will be wise," but it was far from me [beyond my grasp]. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? (vv. 23-24).
  • We can’t know the mind of God. Wisdom is powerful (v. 19), but wisdom can't give us all the answers. Some of life's mysteries can’t be solved. Life is "crooked" (v. 13). It is puzzling. We can only see a few pieces of the puzzle.
  • But we can know the heart of God through the cross. Blaise Pascal said, "Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes a balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness." God straightened the crookedness (perplexity: Christ, the sinless One, was executed) of the cross and showed us His love and the way of salvation.
"If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s disobedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 5:17-21).