Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Scheme of Things (Ecclesiastes 7-9)

One of the things people love to do is to fit things together. To some extent it's a right desire to order and arrange, to form and to fill the world. My 14 month old does it, moving things from one place to another and back with much delight. Babies do it. Politicians do it.

In Genesis 3:5-6 the desire to see the scheme of thing stepped way over the mark into the adultery of sin. Investigating this is The Preacher's quest in Ecclesiastes 7:25-29. He finds that the pursuit of the scheme of things and of adding one thing to another proves fruitless. The work of God is to thwart this quest (8:17) to restrain our sin, even to exiling us from himself.

And indeed when we look at the world we find it full of perplexity. Things don't quite add up. Good things happen to bad people, bad things to the good. Mourning is better than feasting. Even justice is not speedily delivered by God (8:11) and so the mercy of God ends up making people more sinful, more cursed, more given over to sin and more skew whiff from how we'd expect to find things. The world doesn't cohere the way we'd expect.

The Preacher does know some things. God has revealed what has gone wrong and that though it seems otherwise, in the end it will be well with those who fear God (8:12). 

And in the end a story.  A great king lays siege to a city but is thwarted by a poor wise man, history forgets the poor man but nonetheless being wise is better. For the wise fear God. The grand scheme of things isn't something humanity can construct, we cannot find a theory of everything - it will fail somewhere - but God reveals the scheme, his wisdom, his story. And so: eat, drink and rejoice which is to say in the language of Deuteronomy 14:26 worship, enjoy one another's company and that of God without the delusions that everything in this world makes sense.


  1. Hey Dave,

    How do you fit this with Proverbs, which does seem to say that there is an intrinsic order in creation which you can spot and follow?

    All those years ago when I was doing Proverbs I puzzled over this for a long time. The commentaries all make interesting comments about Ecclesiastes being a "fascinating counterpoint" to Proverbs, but I struggled to know how to apply both together.

  2. Not sure if that's how Proverbs works... though I don't think its a problem to say that we can both add some things together but not do it ultimately... the heavens declare glory but it takes revelation to see how it all fits..

    Seems to me that the best counter point to Ecclesiastes (a book written in the frustration of Genesis 3-4) is probably The Song of Songs which is more a Genesis 1-2 Eden/Marriage book... though if you read The Song then Ecclesiastes it is depressing, but so is Genesis 3-4 after 1-2, yet in both cases there is hope.