Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Irony to Fall in Love With

“Go, eat your bread with mirth, and drink your wine with a joyful heart; for now God has favourably accepted your works.”

—Ecclesiastes 9:7 (LXX).

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is a favourite because it’s packed with irony—I find it summarises life beautifully because life in the context of both spirituality and reality is highly paradoxical. And when the Lord placed the phrase ‘common enjoyment’ into my conscious thought I went straight for this verse. It’s actually quite a famous variant of the saying, ‘Eat, drink and be merry.’ But, the biblical version is so much richer and fuller in meaning than the secularised view for an ‘invitation to party.’ Let’s explore.

Deep in considered thought, the sage Qoheleth muses about life. He most fascinatingly thinks of the advantages the living have over the dead; in this he seems to contradict himself after verse 4:2 where he says, “The dead… are happier than the living.” Yet, both are correct. He highlights a paradox of truth to life; a situational irony. But, this is just a distraction, an illustrative one at that!

The lead up to verse 9:7 suggests that God favours no one; all live to the very same rules. Anyone with spiritual sight should be able to see this. It helps explain the injustices that occur. God is no respecter of one person over another—he is impartial. Therefore, it is not only the blessed he blesses or the wicked he curses. We can’t get much fairer than that in an unfair sort of way—the ways of God are inscrutable. And in this we derive joy that we’re alive even in the face of all the perceived unfairness.

Verse 7 itself is a very “now,” living-in-the-now, affirmative statement. God—and no one or nothing else—gives us this breath of life, these thoughts, feelings, motives and desires, notwithstanding the ability to move and do things. By virtue of this life he gives, recalling we’re not perfectly justified yet, he blesses us at every turn with the very same things he gives to the next person. We have air; we have time; we have light—and that to follow.

It is impossible to enjoy the pleasures of life in Sheol—the destiny of the dead as far as the pre-Christian Qoheleth is concerned.[1] So, we make hay whilst the sun shines on our transient physical lives.

Life is about an ironic sort of hope. We have death to look forward to, or not! I’m not sure if there’s anyone right-minded who enjoys the thought of their imminent death, for all our deaths are imminent on the eternal stage. And yet it’s those left behind who will suffer the most when we’re gone.

Hope remains for the living whilst they live. And this is a concept all can and should fall in love with. We have recourse to our actions. We can turn and change tack when things are not so well. We can maintain our course when things are going well. We can choose a life to live after God. We can hope to make a difference and leave a suitable legacy. ‘While there’s life there’s hope,’ they say.

“This is the day that the LORD has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

—Psalm 118:24 (NIV).

We’re destined to enjoy the common moment whether it’s brushing our teeth, having sex, sternly counselling our teenage children, or washing the dishes. Common enjoyment is available every minute. Our common moments cannot be earned so they must be appreciated and it is a Divine pleasure to see them enjoyed.[2] All of these events in life, one strung after another like a string of pearls, are blessed of God—and are for all to enjoy.

Right now, yes, now, we’re alive! While we’re living: live!

© 2009 S. J. Wickham.

[1] It is important to recognise that Ecclesiastes never denounces or rejects the concept of eternal life.

[2] Roland E. Murphy, Proverbs – Word Biblical Commentary 23A (Nashville, Tennessee: Word, Inc. / Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), p. 92.

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