Ecclesiastes Cutting Room Floor, Interrupted…

Due to the storm that is currently blanketing the area with snow, Bible study has been cancelled this week.  This means that I have another week to sit with chapter 1 of Ecclesiastes.  I’ve been sitting with this one for going on three weeks.  It weighs heavy on the mind and soul.  Chapter 2 looks to offer more of the same, with chapter 3 finally moving in a more positive direction, or at least in a direction where we can find some hope.  The end of chapter 2 seems to offer a glimmer of hope, but then the Teacher pulls the rug out from under our feet and reminds us that even our efforts to please God are hebel (fleeting, transitory) – even when we succeed in pleasing God!

Chapter 1 has been weighing heavily on me the past week or so mainly because it seems that there have been an unusually high number of deaths of people that I know and a couple of instances of illness of others that I know.  I’m not going to list them out or anything, I’m just going to say that Ecclesiastes 1 is perhaps not the easiest thing to grapple with in the face of illness and death.  But,for better or worse, it’s been my travelling companion for the last little bit and I’ll say thanks to God for God’s Word and for God’s faithfulness.

Last week, I was sitting in a funeral home with a family that I’ve known my entire life helping them to plan the funeral service for a woman that was a very important part of my life.  Marie ran the daycare and afterschool care that I attended for 3-4 years, she was a very active member of my home church (and my family was there pretty much every time the doors were open), and she helped my dad in running the softball league at my home church (I spent a LOT of hours at that field).  Needless to say, Marie was very important in my life.  While we were talking, one of the family members was sharing her concern that the great-grandchildren would not know Marie and know how wonderful and loving she was.  This is a pretty common concern in tight-knit families.  Several of us mentioned that it was now the job of Marie’s children and grandchildren to carry on in that role – they are to be the examples.

I didn’t mention this of course, but Ecclesiastes 1:11 jumped up in my mind like an obnoxious, braying donkey: “The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.”  And, yes, I just compared a verse of Scripture to an obnoxious, braying donkey.  In that flash, I was kind of agitated with the Teacher.  And I momentarily joined in with those who have long wondered why this book is in the Bible.  I quickly shelved that brief interruption from the Teacher, but the questioning and pessimistic voice of the opening to Ecclesiastes has echoed in my mind over these last 2 weeks.

However, it does get better.  Granted, this improvement doesn’t happen until chapter 3, but it does get better.  Chapter 3 sees the Teacher moving us into a more hopeful direction.  This does not mean that the Teacher is finished with the prominent theme of hebel (the transitory, fleeting nature of existence), but that he begins adding more depth to his meditations.

So in this “in-between” time, when a lot of the world slows or even shuts down, perhaps further reflection on Ecclesiastes 1 and 2 is necessary.  As Richard Beck says in his blog post on hebel, “transitory” does not equal “bad”.  As I was thinking about Marie and her life, this particular conclusion hit me with considerable force.  Life is fleeting and it may be the case that those who follow us will eventually have no memory of us.  The Teacher is telling us that this is how life works.  It’s interesting to me what survives in history.  In doing some research on my dad’s family, I found info going back to 1764 and an ancestor named George Smith.  All that survives are records related to property, marriage, and children.  I know nothing of him beyond the barest of facts – was he kind, or harsh?  Were the children at St. Enoch Lutheran Church drawn to him, or were they afraid of him?  Did he treat his wife and children well, or was he a bad husband and father?  We don’t know these things and once people fall out of living memory, it becomes very difficult to access this kind of information.  I’ve thought a lot about how difficult it would be for me to communicate to my children how important Marie and her husband Pete were to me.  The same is true of my own grandparents.  The same is also true of a number of people who were part of my church family.  A number of these people are still alive and it would still be very difficult to explain to my kids why they had such an impact on my life – they’re not going to be formed and shaped by these people as I was.  As I thought about this, I realized that these people may not play significant roles in the lives of my kids, but my kids already have their own people in their lives, names that will one day make them think of kindness and integrity and faithfulness and the love of Jesus.

Above all, what I’ve finally settled on is that though the Teacher is right about the fleeting nature of life, that does not take away from what these people mean in my life.  The memories I have and the lessons I learned – these things happened.  It was real and it mattered.  It still matters.  And, while this might sound kind of mystical and I’m not sure if there’s Scripture to back up an assertion like this, these people and their actions, their lessons, the things they said, the good that they did, the ways that they served Jesus and the church – these things are in the mind and heart of God.  Their service and faithfulness was not in vain nor was it meaningless.

Next week, I’ll post some miscellaneous stuff about chapter 2…until then, enjoy your week!


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