Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 7, People And Animals Are Alike

In today's passage Solomon looks at the human race and the animal kingdom and sees little difference between them. Life is short for all species. We all have our day on the earth and then we pass on.

He begins by discussing the sovereignty of God. "I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken from it. God does it so that people will fear Him." (Ecclesiastes 3:14) Solomon senses that, though he can't understand everything God is doing, His works are complete and perfect and above reproach. The Lord is a sovereign King in charge of the entire creation and He owes no one an explanation for His decisions. Men like Daniel and Job both made similar statements about the Lord. Daniel pointed out, "He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: 'What have You done?'" (Daniel 4:35b) Job asked, "Who can say to Him, 'What are You doing?'" (Job 9:12b) Solomon will repeat this thought in Chapter Eight when he speaks of obeying earthly kings, "Since a king's word is supreme, who can say to him, 'What are you doing?'" (Ecclesiastes 8:4) The Lord is in charge and aren't we thankful He is righteous? Wouldn't it be terrible if He were unrighteous and had control over everything? But we have a King who is perfect and holy, therefore we should fear (reverence) Him.

Solomon appears to be trying to do something his father knew how to do. He's finding encouragement in thinking about the Lord, just as David did. Once when David's men were so angry at him they wanted to stone him to death, he called on the Lord and placed his trust in Him to take care of the terrible situation he and his men and their families were in. The Bible tells us, "But David found strength in the Lord his God." (1 Samuel 30:6b) We find Solomon repeating a refrain from earlier chapters but he adds something new to it, "Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past into account." (Ecclesiastes 3:15) Life may seem extremely repetitive at times, lacking in variety and freshness, but what we do on this earth matters. How we live our lives matters. God will call all these things into account. All of a sudden, while he meditates on the Lord, Solomon manages to break free for a moment from his depression over what he sees as the monotony and pointlessness of life. It can't be entirely pointless if God is watching and if we are going to have to give Him an account of how we have lived.

"And I saw something else under the sun: in the place of judgment---wickedness was there, in the place of justice---wickedness was there. I said to myself, 'God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed." (Ecclesiastes 3:17) Earlier in the book of Ecclesiastes we found Solomon wearied by the activities of mankind on the earth. He noticed that the same old sins get repeated over and over. Satan may dress them up in modern clothing, but at heart there's nothing new about them. It's the same lust, greed, selfishness, and hatred man has struggled with since the beginning. Solomon may not be close to the Lord, but he isn't an atheist. He believes that if God doesn't set things right during this life He will judge the deeds of man when everyone stands in His presence after death. Because God is eternal, and because the soul is eternal, it does matter how we live. We will have to give an account for all our actions. God will judge the wicked for the purpose of passing sentence; He will judge the righteous for the purpose of issuing rewards. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

"I also said to myself, 'As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.'" (Ecclesiastes 3:18) As humans we like to think of ourselves as the center of the universe. We believe everything revolves around us. But as we studied in the book of Job, all things revolve around God the Creator, not around us. What right have we to be prideful? We are created beings, just like the animals. We may possess more intelligence, but we live fleeting lives on this planet and then we die, just like the animals. We exult in our brilliance and talents and abilities, but we are as vulnerable to disease and injury and death as the animal kingdom. Our big brains and our ability to speak and to create and to build and to carry out great projects won't save us from physical death.

"Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?" (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21) As an animal lover, I find it odd that it depresses Solomon to think that both humans and animals may possess an eternal spirit. But this is a thought that seems to depress a lot of Christian scholars and teachers, at least according to many of the commentaries and discourses I've read regarding whether or not animals have souls. Some of these writers appear quite angry and insulted by the idea that God might have created animals with some type of spirit that returns to Him after death, as if that makes human beings less special and unique. This is merely my opinion and I hope it doesn't offend anyone, but if our God in His sovereign wisdom chose to give the animal kingdom a spirit that lives on, doesn't this make Him even greater and more loving and wonderful? The greater our God is, the more prestige this lends to everything He created, including us. We have enjoyed sharing this world with the animals; wouldn't we also enjoy sharing eternity with the animals? Like Solomon, I can't say for certain one way or the other whether animals have souls or if they go to heaven after death, but I hope they do. I hope God has a place in His eternal plan for these beautiful creatures. Like Solomon, I believe God is somehow going to make everything right, and that may include making things right for the animal kingdom which has been subject to the actions of mankind. The fall of man caused suffering not only for humans but also for the animals. If sin affected the animals in a negative way, perhaps the redemption of man will affect the animals in a positive and eternal way.

Solomon rallied briefly in today's passage but now he sinks back into his mood of wondering how much anything matters. He can't figure anything out. Is our work worth anything? Has our intelligence profited us? Does anything we do have any eternal significance? Once again he ponders whether we should just eat and drink and be merry and enjoy what we can. "So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?" (Ecclesiastes 3:22) He says, "Maybe I should just keep my mind on worldly things and enjoy the work of my hands. I don't know what happens to us after death. I still have doubts about whether the soul exists and where it goes when our bodies die. What if this life is all there is? Wouldn't it be a shame if we didn't enjoy it? I want to understand so much more but at the same time I feel like giving up. Maybe I should just be like one of my horses or mules and enjoy my food and the work I do under the sun, not thinking about anything else."

Solomon is not going to be able to keep his mind on shallow things. God created humans with the intelligence to question our existence, to seek meaning in life, and to wonder whether there is a creator and a soul. Time and again Solomon threatens to give up on his quest to know more, but he simply can't give up. It isn't in him to give up. It isn't in you or me to give up either. We have a Creator who loves us and who has plans for our lives. He has plans for our eternal souls. Life has meaning, so much meaning that God the Son came to earth as a human in order to redeem us from the dark deeds we have committed while we live. If we need absolute proof that life matters and has a meaning and purpose, there's our proof!

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