A treatise on vanity. This is basically the book of Ecclesiastes. What a depressing book. How is a book like that ever to be read and enjoyed, especially with our modern sensibilities? We need stuff that will make us feel good even if it is not the truth, right? Isn’t that what we need? That, at any rate, is what much of society would have us believe.
At first glance, it seems that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that would throw you into nihilistic depression just short of suicidal. So what use has it in Scripture? Or, what, at least, use do we have for it today?
Well, it does no good to build upon a shoddy and cracked foundation. We can build all we want but all we do is for naught if the building will never truly stand. If we are to truly build something that is worth anything we must start anew. We must strip it down to the bedrock. To say that all is vanity is to say that all is cracked, you cannot build upon it. That is not to say that these things are inherently bad, they are not. But for us to understand these things, whatever they may be for you, we must first know they are desperately cracked. They can never hold anything of substance. They can truly never be built upon. They can’t hold the weight. Thus, if we experience discomfort from Ecclesiastes it is the doctor’s scalpel. It is the necessary pain for the healing of our life.
[[This is written to be especially applicable for high school graduates but the points apply to us all.]]
- Don’t forget about God and your personal convictions. You could gain the world, popularity and an inconceivably high GPA, but if you forfeit your soul it profits you nothing. In Jesus alone is there abundant life.
- Be in Christian community. Go to church. Read your Bible. Pray. Sing songs of praise to God.
- Talk to your pastor or spiritual mentor. Let them know when you have questions or are struggling with something.
- Have a personal development plan and record your goals and how you’re going to get there. And then do those things.
- Exercise. Just do it.
- Work ahead when possible.
- Do fun stuff but don’t be stupid. Always consider the possible consequences of your actions.
- Have fun but make the most of your time. For instance, maybe turn off Candy Crush and don’t binge-watch as much Sponge Bob, or whatever. Maybe even turn the Internet off every once and awhile. It’s won’t be gone forever, I promise.
- Have fun. Although it feels difficult these are probably the funniest and easiest years of your life.
- Build relationships. Build relationships with your peers but also with professors, advisors, and bosses. Network (but not just for the purpose of networking. Actually care about people). And meet new people, different people. Say hi to people that you normally wouldn’t say hi to.
- Explore your interests and abilities. As you consider the future, keep an open mind.
- Ask questions and ask for help (in all sorts of settings).
- Learn about finances. Make a budget. Learn about investing. Don’t take out a loan unless you really have to.
- Get there ten minutes early and leave ten after. Talk to your professor or boss and listen to the questions that your peers have.
- Stop your horrible habits now, don’t wait.
- Write things down (your schedule, thoughts, wishes, dreams, and the occasional poem). Your brain dumps its memory every night, your phone or notebook doesn’t.
- Ask questions. Interact with the content you’re being taught. Share your opinions (though, not in an obnoxious know-it-all way)
- Read the syllabus. Love the syllabus. Live and die by the syllabus.
- Call your parents and siblings (if you have them).
- Prioritize! Don’t procrastinate! If you prioritize well you have more room to procrastinate.
- Love learning for the sake of learning, not just for the grade. A love for learning will serve you better than your GPA.
- Chose your friends wisely.
- Chose your “special someone” wisely.
- Enjoy the work you do even if you don’t enjoy it.
- Remember one side sounds right until you hear the other. This is a proverb that holds true in all areas
- “I read it on the internet” doesn’t equal truth (even if you see the same thing in a few places).
- Relativism is actually harmful. Unless there is objective truth, the exhortation for people to be kind (e.g. planet care, respecting others, and not harming others) is subjective and relative to the whim of individuals (and thus doesn’t really need to be heeded).*
- Read books. Read blogs, read news articles, but let the biggest part of your diet be books, especially old books that have stood the test of time.
- Do your work. Your professor should know what they’re doing. So, do the work that they assign.
- Keep your own list. Remember what you have learned and pass it on.
*”To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis on which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights” (Timothy Snyder, *On Tyranny*).
When caring for someone who is suffering it is often best to say little. It is often best to sit in silence and just be a support by your presence. Even when people ask, “Why? …Why did this happen? …Why are we going through this?… Why?…” It is often still better to refrain from giving an answer. Instead of offering answers (that really can’t be satisfactory) we should pray and point them to our God who cares.
However, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it is time to speak here are some things that I have found helpful in the midst of suffering.
Suffering is a result of sin
Suffering was not part of God’s original intention for the world. God created the world “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was only after humanity rebelled that suffering came on the scene.
Sadly, there are all sorts of effects because of sin. The world is fallen. And we have faulty and frail bodies. We are susceptible to Lyme disease, cancer, and all sorts of other things. We all suffer, we will all die. That is sadly the way the world is because of the curse that sin brought.
The suffering we experience is not just the result of various kinds of sickness. It is also the result of being sinned against. People afflict others with emotional and physical pain and fail to love as they should. So we see, sin brings upon the world sickness as well as psychological sorrow. Sin is not good.
So, in one sense, we can give an answer to the “why?” question by saying sadly the world is broken and we as individuals are broken physically and spiritually. However, that’s not all. We, thankfully, are not left there. We also see…
God takes our suffering seriously
Our Lord is not up in the sky indifferent to suffering. God takes sin and its effects seriously. Let’s look at four ways God sympathizes with us and takes sin seriously.
First, we see Jesus sympathizes with our suffering. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus. Jesus was “deeply moved” (v. 33, 38) and “greatly troubled” (v. 33). Jesus can sympathize with us and our suffering (cf. Heb. 4:15). Our Lord is not up in heaven unaware of the suffering of His servants. Our Lord is aware and He cares. He cares deeply.
Our Lord cares so much that second He comes as our Savior. We see “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.” Jesus offers a solution to the problem of suffering, by suffering in our place. Suffering without medicine or morphine, suffering on a Roman instrument of torture. Even as we grieve over suffering and death we do not grieve as those without hope. We have hope! We have hope through Jesus!
Jesus didn’t heal everyone when He walked the earth and He doesn’t heal everyone now, but He does take care of our biggest problem. Jesus suffered, bled, and died. He was cast out by the Father so that we could be welcomed in.
God is good. Even when we cannot see His hand, we can trust His heart. God memorialized His love for us, when we see the cross, we see that God’s hands are open wide to welcome us in, comfort, and renew us.
So, dear beloved, take heart, Jesus, who is God, weeps as you weep. He feels your misery. However, He does not leave us there (as everybody else has to because they are not Lord) but offers us the solution to all pain and misery. How does He do that, what solution does He give? Jesus gives Himself, His own life. He takes the misery upon Himself on the cross. He bears the wrath we all deserve. Through what Christ did on the cross, for all those in Christ, all things will be restored, made new!
Actually, even now we, in Christ, have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). So, in the midst of suffering and difficulties, we shouldn’t project ourselves into a graceless future. Because, third, God will be there, grace will be there. The LORD will not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Our Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is with us now and He will be with us through the storms of life (Ps. 23 cf. 121). Even in our suffering when we can’t form words to pray, the Spirit is there to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).
Fourth, we see that Jesus will come back and set all things right. There will be no more reason to weep for He Himself will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4)! We know, as Paul says, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17 cf. Rom. 8:18). Read More…
Sin is the Unmaking of Man and a Manifold of Beauties
This world cries out like so much ripe fruit, “I’m good! Eat me! Indulge yourself…” However, much of the fruit here, as in the Garden, leads to cataclysmic clashes, with God, yourself, and humanity. It looks good and much of it is. But much of it has an infectious parasite on it. Its hard, though not impossible, to consume it without getting “sick.”
In Genesis 3:1-24 we see the Fall of humanity. We see various forms of death given birth to. We see “’an ever-growing avalanche of sin, a continually widening chasm between man and God’. It progresses from disobedience, to murder, to indiscriminate killing, to titanic lust, to total corruption, and uncontrolled violence.”[ii] Sin truly brings a litany of death. “Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. We have lost God’s shalom—physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart.”[i]
Through sin we have marred more than the mediocre; we have marred the Michelangelos of the world. We have marred superb beauty and made it unbelievably hideous. Yet, if we see something that is less hideous we look at it as a wonder. Why? Because this world is so tainted and steeped in sin and the effects of sin.
To illustrate, if I ruin a “masterpiece” that my son made with paper, glue, and crayons the ramifications will be far less than if I destroy the Mona Lisa. Well, creation was intended to be a Mona Lisa; that is, it was intended to be supremely glorious. God’s creation was intended to be good, beautiful, and esthetically pleasing to our senses, emotions, and intellect beyond what we can imagine. And so the ramifications of the destruction of such beauty is greater. We often think of this world as the way it is not as the way it was intended to be. If we could see a glimpse of what the Great Creator had in mind for His masterpiece then we’d see that we “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” We essentially killed a thousand Beethovens and blared white noise. We backfilled the Grand Canyon with gravel. We burned a hundred museums of art. We scorched our taste buds off our tongue. We took a wrecking ball to all the wonders of the world and razed a thousand gorgeous cities. In short, through our “war crimes,” we, as humanity, deserve death. We have brought cataclysmic chaos to the world.
Sin is not a light thing. We, as humans, were created in the image of God. We were to be like Christ, God in flesh (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). The world was meant to be supremely glorious, peaceful, and loving but instead it is disgusting and understandably repugnant to God. So, as we try to grasp the wonder of what has been marred we can begin to understand how serious the situation is and how terrible sin is.
Thus, sin is not good because it is the unmaking of man and a manifold of beauties.
[i] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 177. “Disunion with God is reflected in disunion with others and with oneself” (Johnson, Foundations of Soul Care, 466 cf. Bonhoeffer, Ethics).
[ii] Revd Victor James Johnson, “Illustrating Evil – The Effect of the Fall as seen in Genesis 4-11,” 57 in Melanesian Journal of Theology 11-1&2 (1995).
If you are like me, you have had times when you have thought that good communication is not possible. You may have even said, “We’re too different,” “We just think on different wavelengths,” or “I can’t stand that person.” However, the truth is we can have good communication and further Scripture tells us to (see for example Eph. 4:25, 29, 31-32; Ps. 141:3; Prov. 18:13, 17; 21:23; 25:11). I have been reading a little pamphlet by Stuart Scott called Communication and Conflict Resolution, and yes, I am mainly reading it for my own marriage but I hope that this helps you as well; at work, at home, and aboard.
There are many negative effects to poor communication. I could list them but I am sure that you acutely feel many of them already. However, I will remind you, and myself, that our horizontal relationships between friends and family are not the only relationship effected by our communication. Our vertical relationship with God can also be greatly effected by our communication. If we dishonor God by what we say it hinders not only human fellowships but also our fellowship with God (cf. Matt. 5:23-24). If we speak unkindly or lie to someone that is also not a good testimony before an unbelieving world. However, the opposite is also true, we can greatly honor God by our communication with our fellow humans. All of this is to say that there is more at stake than just being polite or culturally appropriate in our communication (see James 3:5-6 to be reminded of the importance of what we say).
As we think about communication; what we say, and how we say it. We must understand why we say it, i.e. where it comes from. So, where does it come from? The Bible says that what we say comes out of our heart (cf. Matt. 12:34). From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Thus, it is vital that we not merely fix what people say (the external) and gloss over what is going on inside (the internal).
Stuart Scott gives six prerequisites to good communication that don’t gloss over what is going on inside. I will give each of his points with Scripture reference:
1. You must want to please God more than anything else (2 Cor. 5:9). Our desire in conversation must not be to make much of ourselves, to prove we’re right, but to honor and make much of God.
2. You must be humble (Eph. 4:1-3). We must realize that we are sinful and it is very likely that we have done wrong. We must acknowledge that even if we have not done wrong in this particular instance, we have before and we will again soon.
3. You must be aware that you are accountable to God for everything you communicate (Matt. 12:36). As we talk, no matter the conversation, we should not take it lightly for we will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to give an account.
4. You must know how to listen (Prov. 18:13; James 1:19). Not only should we attentively listen to others because it is the right thing to do, not only because it is in line with the Golden Rule, but because without it there can be no meaningful conversation.
5. You must know that communication involves more than just words (James 4:17). Whether we know it or not, or like it or not, the volume of our voice, the gestures of our hands, the ruling of our eyes, the posture of our body, and numerous other things communicate to people.
6. You must be willing to put forth the effort and spend the time it takes to communicate (Rom. 12:10-12). In Romans, we are told to be “devoted to one another.” This devotion takes time and intentionality.
Scott also gave four specific principals for biblical communication: 1) Speak the truth (Eph. 4:25, 29-32), 2) Speak with purpose (1 Cor. 10:31; Eph.4:29; Col. 4:6), 3) Speak clearly (Prov. 10:19; 15:28; Matt. 5:37), and 4) Speak at the right time (Prov. 25:11).
There is a lot more that I could say and a lot more that Scott said that was helpful. However, I think a good start is simply realizing that good communication is important and something that the Bible is not silent on. Second, good communication is something that we must be intentional about. It takes time. It takes work.
Take time now and evaluate your communication. Will you put these points into practice to improve your communication? Will you honor God by working at communication?