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June 4: Day of Pentecost

Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is a vapor. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him? – Ecclesiastes 3:16-15

Having experiences is a valuable commodity in our world. I once heard a Disney Institute leadership trainer say that what Disney really sells is “experiences.” The trendiest churches do not list times for their worship services because they do not have worship services; they have “worship experiences.” This is not to say that it’s immoral to have experiences or even to seek certain ones out, but our propensity for idolatry means that wisdom is necessary to discern good and evil.

Preacher Solomon offers relevant wisdom here: using experience to decide things for you can be perilous. Experience is precisely that which may hide the love of God from you. Experiences for Adam and Eve before the Fall were good. They experienced the world as a blessing, but their successors—including us—experience life under the sun as a curse much of the time. We’d like to think of a life where faithfulness is rewarded with blessing, and wickedness brings ruin and shame. Psalm 73, however, tells a different experience of life under the sun: “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.”

Thus Solomon opens this passage in Ecclesiastes: “Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.” That’s experience not evidencing the love of God. Does justice reign in our civil courts? There seems to be no end to the books and movies about stories where justice failed in the civil courts. Does justice reign in churches? So often we hear of scandals and coverups there too. How about the home? The family is supposed to be a place of nurture where righteousness is protected and maintained, right? In Bible-Belt-Buckle Oklahoma last year there were 143,404 children alleged to be victims of abuse or neglect; after investigation, 15,187 of them were confirmed to be actual victims of abuse or neglect.

The wise Christian will, nonetheless, trust God’s gracious purposes and His inscrutable timing, which is why Solomon says in his heart: “Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.” We don’t know how God will rectify unrighteousness in this life or why He allows injustice. Experience tells us that much of the time people get away with things, and even those who are caught receive consequences that don’t nearly match the evil they perpetrated. Therefore, experience (walking by sight) is unreliable. It is by faith we believe God will bring things to rights.

Preacher Solomon then goes on to talk about another thing we like to gloss over: death. “I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” He is not saying that people are merely highly developed animals (like evolutionists are forced to concede). He is saying that we’ve been reduced to the level of dying and returning to dirt like the animals. Adam wanted to rise up to the level of divinity, but instead, he was laid low like the non-human animals. Consequently, it’s all a vapor.

And then Solomon’s now familiar conclusion is provided: “So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?” Luther sums this up: “This then is the portion of the righteous: to enjoy the things that are present and not be afflicted by the things that are in the future.” We are not the master of the future; therefore, rejoice in the present.

This is where the death and resurrection of Christ come into sharp relief. As the Apostle Paul says, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19). In other words, the hope of Christ is not just for now: it is for the resurrection where “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.” After all, as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8, “the sufferings of this present time (our experiences) are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (God’s promises by faith). And that’s the gospel!

Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.

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