Today we started a new series at the ministry course I attend, in the book of Ecclesiastes.
The constant refrain of the book is that “Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”(Ecc 2:11).
The writer paints a picture of a world of futility, where all achievements and joys are overshadowed by pain and the inevitable approach of death.
Cheerful stuff! (I think we were all grateful for the coffee break when it came!)
Still, our lecturer Nigel Styles raised a very helpful point as he got us thinking about how we as Christians understand and apply what we read in Ecclesiastes. We must be careful not to teach a type of Christianity which ignores this very real struggle with the “meaninglessness” created by living in a fallen world, not yet reconciled to its maker.
He quoted Larry Crabb who says in his book “Inside Out”:
“We are told, sometimes explicitly, but more often by example, that it’s simply not necessary to feel the impact of family tensions, frightening possibilities, or discouraging news….Life may have its rough spots, but the reality of Christ’s presence and blessing can so thrill our soul that pain is virtually unfelt.
The effect of such teaching is to blunt the painful reality of what it’s like to live as part of an imperfect, and sometimes evil community.
We learn to pretend that we feel now what we cannot feel until heaven.”
“We were designed to enjoy a better world than this. And until that better world comes along, we will groan for what we do not have…The promise of one day being with Jesus in a perfect world is the Christian’s only hope for complete relief. Until then we either groan or we pretend we don’t.”
I think this “groaning” should be part of our experience as Christians. As we are increasingly made into Christ’s likeness, our hearts will begin to ache for the things that move God’s heart. We will long for all things to be brought under Christ’s just and perfect reign, and sometimes this might show itself in real heartache and tears!
We mustn’t be deceived into thinking that maturity in faith means that we do not suffer or groan.
The Christian life is not uninterrupted peace and joy. In fact the more we grow to love Christ, the more we will long for his heavenly kingdom and unlimited presence. For pure hearts, with which to worship him.
For me, a very practical outworking of this is that I am free from the pressure to exhibit constant joy and together-ness as a Christian. Of course I will often be filled with joy and thankfulness for God’s blessings and for His saving grace. But there will also be times when I mourn – When marriages break down, when loved ones are ill, when close friends wander away from God, and when I struggle personally with pain, grief, or disappointment. Sometimes it might mean that I cry during church worship, or have to ask a friend to pray for me.
We mustn’t create a misleading impression within the church, that we are somehow exempt from the results of the fall. Ecclesiastes is a book that takes its effects seriously, surveying a world made futile and meaningless by sin.
Our lecturer wrapped up today by saying that ultimately “the cry that everything is meaningless, is a cry for Jesus”
Amen, come Lord Jesus, come!