Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ecclesiastes, Chapter 4

One of life’s greatest joys is when we see good come out of suffering. Right now, the Olympics are going on. They are always full of stories where people have overcome suffering in order to triumph. This year the U.S. Olympic team was lead into the stadium by flag-bearer Lopez Lomong, a Sudanese refugee who overcame oppression in his home country, made it to the United States, and became a citizen. In a few days he will compete in the 1500 meter race in front of the eyes of the world. He has overcome great suffering in order to reach the pinnacle of his athletic career.

Some people use suffering as fuel to achieve greater success. Just this week, I received a snide comment that really hurt, but I plan to use it as fuel in order to prove these people wrong. In chapter 4 of Ecclesiastes, we see how suffering can make a situation feel hopeless, yet we know that if we trust in God there can be good that comes out of this suffering. I have gone through some very dark and depressing periods of my life. Right now seems to be one of those periods where physically I am fine and all my needs area met, but I am in constant mental pain where sleep is my only refuge from it. In these periods, however, I have trusted God and he has taught me several important lessons. Why should I expect this time to be different?

1 Again I looked and saw all 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.
2 And I declared that the dead,

who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
3 But better than both

is he who has not yet been,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

Here the author of this book is arguing that it is better to have never been born that to be alive or even dead. His argument is that, if you are never born, you never have to see what a broken and sinful world this is. Because of that, all hope is gone without God. At this point it is becoming a depressingly repetitive theme, but the author is successful in making a major point. We have a need for redemption and hope, and the only way to that is through God. Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which would come more than 1,000 years later, we have hope where there once was none.

9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
10 If one falls down,

his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

This is one of the first positive signs that we see from the author of Ecclesiastes. We don’t have choice when it comes to existence. Here the author argues that if we must suffer, our suffering can be eased if we are not alone. When we have friends we can use them as a coping mechanism with our struggles. This is also in line with an idea that dates all the way back to Genesis in that man is not meant to be alone. We are given companions in the form of our spouses. This is something I am incredibly thankful for because life would certainly suck a lot more if not for my wife.

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