Finding Contentment in a life of Extremes.
“Every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.”
Ecclesiastes has always been one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible. Part of the genre of wisdom literature (which includes Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, and several of the Psalms), the sage seeks to provide us a roadmap for how to live in a broken and disjointed world. While Proverbs shows us how to find success in life through the application of wisdom, the writer of Ecclesiastes takes us on a different journey. Proverbs promise us that if we keep on the path of wisdom, success and enjoyment of life will follow. However, Ecclesiastes takes us down the path of a fallen world where wisdom does not always result in success. Instead, life is filled with paradoxes and extremes, where the reality of sin brings futility and frustration. However, like Proverbs, the writer does not abandon wisdom, but rather sees wisdom as essential to navigate such a broken and rocky path. He does so by challenging us to avoid the extremes that can distract us and instead keep our focus on the fear of God and obedience to his commands, for in a world of paradoxes this gives ultimate meaning and purpose (12:13).
In his pursuit of trying to understand life, the writer sets upon a journey that in spite of the contradictions and confusions of a broken world, there are life-governing principles we must identify and follow. A central principle is a recognition that life is a gift from God to be enjoyed within the context of the fear of God. Over and over again he encourages us that there is nothing better than to eat and drink and enjoy the life God has given (2:26; 3:12,13, 3:22; 5:18; 6:12;8:15; 9:7). This is not the pursuit of wanton pleasure, but rather the enjoyment of life within the context of our obedience to him (12:13).
Genuine contentment comes when we accept what God has given (both good and bad) and learn to enjoy all his blessings. To be content we must navigate between the extremes of hedonism and self-indulgence on the one hand and asceticism and self-denial on the other. Balance is found through the acceptance of our life in spite of its challenges, for life is still God’s greatest gift to us. Tragically, there are those who fail to enjoy life because they are never satisfied with what they have. Equally tragic are those who refuse to enjoy what God has given them because they feel unworthy of his blessings. Wallowing in the pit of self-guilt they believe that redemption can only be found in the bitter rejection of anything good. But Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has governed every time and event in our life for a purpose and life itself is still to be enjoyed. Just as the unchecked pursuit of pleasure dishonors God, so also a puritanical outlook, that refuses to see any joy in life, dishonors him as well. Everywhere we turn we see the display of God’s blessings given purely for our enjoyment. The joy of an awe-inspiring view of majestic mountains, the wonder of a newborn baby, the retreat of a camping trip in the quiet forest, the thrill of seeing a comet streaking across the universe. For all the incongruities of life, the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that it is still a gift from God to be fully enjoyed. In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, take the time to enjoy life, and as you do, take the time to give praise and thanksgiving to a God who has given you countless blessings merely for your enjoyment.