16–22 August 2015.
As we come towards the end of Ecclesiastes, the writer begins to sum up his thoughts, and we find here a very bittersweet feeling. He has tested and tried many things, and looked for a stable meaning to life. But everything has failed. Wisdom and learning, joy and pleasure, even righteousness and religion all fall apart in the end and reveal the vanity and futility of life.
This is a good reminder to us to remember that we are limited human creatures. God is unlimited, but we are not God. Our lives will always contain limits and darkness. Nothing we see will be perfect. This sounds bitter and disappointing, but it doesn’t need to be bad news.
Despite all the futility of life, the writer comes back to the importance of joy. In Numbers 15:39 Moses tells the people not to follow the desires of their own hearts or eyes. But here the writer disagrees. In verse 9 his recommendation to the young is to enjoy life while they can, and find joy when possible, following their hearts. With honesty, he tells us that sorrows and darkness, troubles and pain will come soon enough in life – we can’t expect life to be all fun and celebration. But because those troubles will soon come, that is even more reason to find joy whenever you can.
Martin Luther saw this as good advice for young people, that they should avoid sadness and loneliness. Like flowers, young people need brightness and light to grow. Young people raised without joy and happiness become spiritually ill and psychologically sick. This is an important reminder for parents: that we shouldn’t overburden our children with the challenges and difficulties of life, but allow them to grow in joy.
This is not to say that anything goes! Later life will be full of enough regrets without needing the extra pain of remembering stupid things we did when we were young. So joy still needs wisdom to guide it. But wisdom and life should still lead us to joy: joy with our friends, joy with family, joy with creation, and most importantly, joy with God.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis