says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless."
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.
Again I looked and saw the oppression that was taking place under the sun:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier still than the living
who are still alive.
But better than both
is he who has not yet been,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun.
—Ecclesiastes 1:2, 18; 4:1-3
A friend and I talked about the tension between God's sovereignty and the free will of humanity (and everything else not God, for that matter) this afternoon. In such matters, I think it is both wise and blessed not to settle for easy answers. I don't think any such answers are presented in Scripture, honestly.
What will we do with the reality of brokenness, suffering, and evil in the world of a God who claims to be both sovereign and good? Another friend was pressed with the same question a few months ago. To protect her beautiful heart, she'd concluded that He was simply non-existent. It is, in some ways, an easier thing on our hearts for Him not to be at all than to face the possibility of His being a negligent parent at best and some kind of sadistic, horrific monster at worst. Yet the question of His existence is separate from the questions of His sovereignty and goodness. I cannot claim because of someone's action or inaction that, therefore, they do not exist. Neither can God fail on a moral techincality.
All that being said, the tension is more present rather than less. Can we thwart God's plan? Is sin less sinful, and therefore, somehow, God's responsibility, if it is necessary to advance God's purposes (e.g. Judas)? And if God's allowance for sin in advancing His purposes is terrible, how much more terrible the allowance of sin and suffering that seems to serve no purpose whatsoever? It's almost as if a sovereign, good God can't possibly be in this world.
Solomon is believed by most to be the author of Ecclesiates. No one had as much, tried as much, knew as much, lived as much as he. Yet his conclusion after all of it is, "Meaningless! A chasing after the wind." This is a man I can identify with. In this book, he doesn't shy away from the questions, doesn't sugarcoat the answers, and doesn't smooth over the apparent contradictions. Ecclesiates is dangerous, inconsistent, seemingly out of place in the Bible.
That's why I love it. It may seem like a sore thumb, but who among us hasn't felt pain far beyond a sore thumb? It needs a voice, and here it is. Out of context, this might appear to be set against the truth of the gospel. Rightly understood, it creates a compelling backdrop for it. The portrait of a world in need of redemption is painted in poignant, aching detail. How can this all be? And if this is the way it is, what's the point?
The key to understanding, I think, is this phrase: under the sun.
That's the setting for his perspective and ours. In it, our best sense is nonsense, our best understanding is misunderstanding. Nothing balances, nothing works, and that's simply the fact of the matter, the nature of the beast. But the truth isn't confined to this setting— in fact, it is beyond it. There's a bigger picture, a higher drama, a deeper romance. It's a Kingdom that has invaded and conquered ours in the person of Jesus Christ. Since that's the reality we, too, were built for, we will know longing, pain, and suffering. We have to trust beyond our understanding based solely on who He has shown Himself to be. Thankfully, He is an opener of eyes, an unstopper of ears, a loosener of tongues, a healer of lameness, and a giver of faith.
I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.