Saturday, January 29, 2005

pigs' ears and silk purses

It may sound odd Christians, but early last year after we lost our son, I found renewed comfort in the book of Ecclesiastes.

The book of Ecclesiastes, known as Qohelet in Hebrew, is part of the Bible's wisdom literature, by an author known only as "the preacher." In contrary to much religious writing, Ecclesiastes paints a fairly morose view of life, one where there is no advantage in being young, being wise, being strong or being wealthy. No matter how wonderful things are, hanging over all of it is the certainty of death to come, an ending that renders everything meaningless.

It's always been one of my favorite books in the Bible, but the preacher's brutal honesty helped me get through the darkest time of my life to date.

What did I take away from it? That popular platitudes notwithstanding, everything does not happen for a reason. Sometimes life is just so horrible, all you can do is crawl under the covers and ask why you didn't die the day you were born, and when you're done crying, get up and go through the motions of living, since that's all you have left to do.

And after a while, you start to see that even though to live is still to suffer, God has placed eternity in our hearts so that we can glimpse heaven and God's mercy in the world around us. We have friends who lie down with us to keep us warm (it's still cold, but someone is helping us make it through); we can still eat and drink, and enjoy what modest pleasures those bring us; and at the end of the day, we can escape our misery in a few blessed hours of sleep.

In the annoyingly oft-quoted Romans 8:28, Paul writes that God is working in all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes.

The way I came to understand that verse is that it's true that God can sew a silk purse out of a pig's ear. It may not change the fact that it's a pig's ear, but that doesn't change the fact that God made a silk purse out of it.

And lastly, of course, the preacher wrapped up his ruminations by saying, "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." A friend of mine once commented that he doesn't understand why the preacher says to fear God instead of saying to love him.

After what I went through, I think I understand: It's because it's not always possible to love God in the way that we usually understand it. Sometimes, all you can do is to live in fear and trembling of that dreadful joy, and follow the commands he has laid down.


Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.


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