Saturday, September 4, 2010

September 4

OT: Ecclesiastes 7:1-9:18

Drat. I am waaaay confused. Clearly, I need to research some on this book. Is it a collection of writings? Is there more than one author? What is this book? All I know is that I read all sorts of crazy things today.

In the first verse, I read that "the day of death is better than the day of birth" (7:1). But then in 9:4, I read that "Anyone who is among the living has hope--even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!" Huh?

Also, 7:2-4 asserts that "it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting," and that "sorrow is better than laughter." And yet, 9:7 says to "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do." In short, I note a seemingly conflict between chapter 7 and chapter 9. Why is that?

And that's not all. Halfway through chapter 7, the writer kind of steers a middle course, saying:

"When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider:
God has made the one
as well as the other."

I actually really like that one, as well as the Job-like proclamation that comes a few verses later:

"In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:
a righteous man perishing in his righteousness,
and a wicked man living long in his wickedness" (7:15).

However, the conclusions reached from this observation are troubling, to say the least:

"Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise--
why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool--
why die before your time?
It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
The man who fears God will avoid all extremes" (16-18).

Huh? Is the writer really advocating that we not be too righteous, and that we have a healthy amount of righteousness and wickedness in us? Is this not a recipe for being lukewarm? I am so confused as to how I am supposed to read these words.

I also wasn't a fan of the slam on women in 7:28.

In all my confusion, though, Ecclesiastes does give me a little guidance. In 8:17, the writer declares, "No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, many cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it." First of all, this verse would be true for me if you replaced "under the sun" with "in Ecclesiastes." Secondly, it is also true for me as it is written:). I was just talking to my husband earlier this evening about how much I long for knowledge. After my longing for God, my thirst for knowledge is definitely my most insatiable longing. But sadly, I see more and more that I will never know, never understand all that I want to about life on earth. And really, I don't quite understand what, specifically, God wants me to do with this life He gave me. And the more I read and study, the more confused I tend to get! And I think that when you search so futilely, the end result is that you boil down the truth to something simple. The writer of Ecclesiastes seems to boil down meaning to "eat, drink, and be merry." I tend to boil down meaning to, "love God and love others." I guess the more you get lost in the maze of knowledge and information, the more you start to sense that maybe the answer is something really simple. Either that, or its a hopeless case!

NT: 2 Cor. 7:8-16

I'm beginning to sense that this letter is deeply personal. My theory is that one reason Paul can come across as almost irritatingly defensive in his tone is that he is so emotionally invested in this letter and in his audience. Paul is not spouting abstract philosophies to a distant audience here. No, he is elbow deep in messy ministry. He cares for the Corinthians, and he is working through some sharp conflicts that they have had. Today's reading illuminates some of the messy emotions involved:

"Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it--I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while--yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance" (8-9).

In other words, Paul doesn't regret calling them out--no wait, he does, b/c he hated that he hurt their feelings, but now he's glad because they responded well. There are a lot of emotional words here: sorrow, regret, hurt, happy. He also talks about being encouraged and delighted by them, as well as being relieved that they didn't embarrass him in front of Timothy (13-14). All of these feeling-based statements show me that Paul is emotionally attached.

In fact, I remember now that the last time I read Corinthians (both letters), I came to see them as a manual of sorts on ministry. And I found this emotional attachment to be very interesting. As I minister to teens, I have struggled with getting too emotionally attached. I have wondered to what degree it is healthy to open up my heart and life, and to what degree are boundaries needed to maintain an effective relationship. In light of my search for the proper line, it is interesting to note how Paul's heartstrings and emotions seem to have come into play with the Corinthians.

Psalm 48:1-14

Another praise psalm from the sons of Korah.

Proverbs 22:17-19

"Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise..."
Well, that's what I've been doing with Ecclesiastes, and I'm more confused than ever!:) Any help would be appreciated!

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