Sunday. Church. And my dad was preaching.
I wasn’t particularly listening with a view to discovering some hidden gem for us here but you know what? God totally did a number on me because he didn’t just have stuff vaguely related to what we talk about here, he delivered the whole little lot up on a golden plate with big neon arrows flashing ‘pick me! pick me!’
I wish I’d recorded what he said because there was some background stuff which I’ll save for another time but the big aha for the purposes of us and delight stems from the book of Ecclesiastes.
I’d always thought of it as a bit of a cynical book, written by a King at the end of his life when he was tired with all the eating, drinking and womanising (700+ wives? Wowzas!) I mean really, all that moaning and complaining and railing about how everything is so meaningless – what’s that about?!?
Turns out that what it’s about is a rather lovely note for us from God, telling us to enjoy and take delight in every minute of every day.
Allow me to explain …
First though, how’s your Old Testament Hebrew? Mine is rubbish!
Thankfully though, there’s a wonderful book on my shelf that’s a bit like a massive dictionary combined with a cross-referencing system which allows us to dig into what specific words in the bible actually mean, the context they were used in and other possible meanings for the same words.
“Meaningless” in Hebrew is “hebel” (and no, I’m not making any attempt to write that using the Hebrew alphabet!) But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My dad started his preach by digging into examples in the bible of God and the breath of life. There were your usual suspects like Genesis 2 (Adam being given the breath of life) but also lots and lots of instances in Psalms where the context was more about how fleeting life is.
“You have made my years a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.” – Psalm 39:5
“Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.” – Psalm 62:9
Those are just 3 examples and in each instance, they use the same Hebrew word.
But can you guess what word is actually used?
If you said ‘hebel’ it’s 10 points to Gryffindor because you’d be spot on.
When King Solomon said, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningly! Everything is meaningless!” and the tirade that follows in the next 11 verses, what if instead of being bitter and cynical, he was really just observing that, in the big scheme of things, when seen in the context of how fleeting life is, all the rest of the stuff we worry about and chase after is really just nothing?
It gives a whole new outlook on the subheading of chapter 2 “Pleasures are meaningless” doesn’t it?
“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?
To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” – Ecclesiastes 2:24-26
All of it is fleeting. Just like how life itself can be snuffed out in a heart beat, so too is now just a moment in time.
“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun – all your meaningless days.
For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labour under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” – Ecclesiastes 9:7-10
God has already approved that you enjoy life. Life is fleeting and but a breath so make the most of it while you can.
Cool eh? That’s what I thought. 🙂
There’s lots and lots in the bible about taking up your cross, being patient under affliction and the need to die daily to sin and stuff like that along the same vein. And that still stands of course. God’s not saying, “Hey, you’d love to know what it feels like to rob a bank? Go for it! Enjoy!”
He’s also not promising that every single day will be amazing and without problems or worry or tears. The whole prosperity gospel thing about God gifting riches and happiness to people according to how well they follow him also doesn’t do it for me. This is life and sometimes, life sucks!
But I believe he is saying that you can enjoy life without needing to feel guilty about doing so. Be thankful for what you have, the people who you love you and the things in life that make you smile.
Enjoy them. Be thankful for them. Know that God smiles to see you smiling so make the most of every moment.