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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dung happens-the Bible tells me so

I'm not sure if it's theologically kosher to pick a favorite book of the Bible, but if I could pick a favorite book , the answer would be Ecclesiastes. For me Ecclesiastes is like food for the soul. I love reading the Psalms and I love reading Proverbs, but there is something about the book of Ecclesiastes that grabs me every time I read it. I would even suggest that if one only reads the Book of Proverbs, (which was written during the years of Solomon's reign) and skips over Ecclesiastes ( which was written towards the end of his life); it is like watching Megan Fallows play an adolescent in Anne of Green Gables without watching her grow to maturity in Anne of Avonlea.

Without going into an exposition of the entire book, I would like to point out a passage in Ecclesiastes that I think is probably the most unique passage in the entire Bible. The passage is found in Ecclesiastes 9:11, "I returned and saw under the sun that-The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to all."

Not only is this the most unique verse in all the Bible, I think it is the most unique verse in all of religion. Every religion that I can think of teaches a strict reciprocity principle. You get what you deserve and that's the end of the story. Buddhism and Hinduism teach karma, Islam teaches that everything that happens is directly willed by Allah (and Allah gives people what they deserve). The strict reciprocity principle even makes its way into human cultures.The idea that one's lot in life is directly proportional to the choices one makes is an idea nearly enshrined in American culture. As far as I know, the Bible is the only religious book that allows for time and chance.

I'm glad this is in the Bible. If it weren't, I think we could all rightly question whether the Bible is truly the Word of God, because if a book is going to make the claim to be inspired by God, shouldn't it at least portray reality as it is? While most of us prefer to believe that we are in control of our lives, the reality is-dung happens.

Forrest Gump was right. Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes the righteous suffer the majority of their lives through little fault of their own. Other times the wicked prosper despite their evil deeds. Sometimes talentless people strike record deals. Other times world class singers like Eva Cassidy spend their lives in virtual anonymity and die of skin cancer in their early thirties. One just happened to be at the right place at the right time and the other just couldn't catch a break.

Knowing this helps to put things in perspective. Things don't always turn out like they should. That's just life. I think Solomon understood that it is better to adjust to the nuance of reality than to live in a fantasy world of predictability. I don't have a degree in Psychology, but I have a feeling that adjusting to reality makes good mental sense. So the next time I see the world famous bumper sticker with a slightly different word for dung, I'll think to myself, just one more reason to believe the Bible.

9 comments:

marhaban said...

Chapter 5
Heaven and earth are not benevolent,
They treat the ten thousand things equally, like straw dogs
Neither is the sage benevolent,
treating every one equally like straw dogs
Daudejing

After meditating with my zen buddhist friends yesterday, we were discussing how in Chinese culture, things were not good or bad, they were advantageous or not but there was not the moral assignment that we give.

They believed that life was circular, bad things and good things each had a season. We discussed how similar this belief was to verses in Ecclesiastics.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Interesting point Marhaban. I'm assuming that you are referring to Ecclesiastes chapter 3 which says there is a time and a season for everything. I too have noticed the similarity between this passage and the cyclical view of life found in many pagan religions.

There is a crucial difference, however, between Solomon's worldview and the worldview of your Zen Buddhist friend. The difference is found in the concluding verses of Ecclesiastes.

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."

In the Biblical worldview, all of us are going to give an account to God, the Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth, for our thoughts and actions one day; not to some mysterious impersonal force.
In Biblical faith, reality is grounded in relationships, most importantly, man's relationship with His Creator.

Also central to Biblical faith is the idea that good triumphs over evil. This is what the resurrection of Jesus is all about. Rather than being impersonal opposites of the same force, the Bible acknowledges that good and evil are real, but good is far more powerful and will ultimately triumph over evil at the end of the age.

Pete said...

Aaron,
Using Anne of Green Gables to make a point?!? I'm deducting 20 manliness points.
This is a great post though. I've had what I would consider a run of bad luck in the last small segment of my life, but you know, I don't think I'm being punished for anything. The beautiful thing is that God takes peoples bad times and experiences and uses them for wonderful things. It reminds me of football practices in August-they're not fun at the time, but they leave you feeling like you could conquer the world if you make it through. You know, God doesn't put us through more than we can handle, and sometimes I'm flattered at what He thinks I can handle.
On a different note,this is the second time in two days that I've heard a lesson or thought that revolved around someone trying their hardest not to say....well I won't spell it out on your blog out of respect, but I'm wondering what the sense is in alluding to a word that everyone will think in their brain, but abstain from saying it that loud(no offense meant here...I really am wondering). I say your next post should deal with curse words. I would love to hear what you have to say/biblical material on this matter. Sorry for that bunny trail.
Pete

toby said...

aaron,

i second pete's comment on your anne of green gables reference; it went way over my head. but i do like the topic of this post and ecclesiates is a great book. and i like the idea of a future post on curse words.

marhaban said...

Aaron,

Acrually what we also were discussing was that there will never be an end to problems.

The quote from the daudejing is addressing the fact that the world does not discriminate, it dishes out painful and joyful circumstances on everyone regardless of how good a person they are.

Maybe I misread your post, but I thought that you were saying that all buddhists believe in "the reap what you sow" philosophy, but they actually are a pretty complex life philosophy and it varies depending on whether they evolved from chinese or japanese or indian traditions.

I agree that there are differences in world views, but ...

My friends believe that we should be good people in this world because it is the right thing to do and it will make this world a better place. And honestly, I don't find this in conflict with my beliefs.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Pete and Toby,

The Anne of Green Gables reference was to show a progression from an adolescent theology to a grown-up theology, which is what I see reflected in the difference in style and substance between the different phases of Solomon's life as reflected in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

Marhaban,

Thank you for your comment. While I disagree with the philosophical presuppositions of Buddhism, I agree with you that the religion takes on different forms depending on the region. Zen Buddhism, for example, is very different from Theraveda Buddhism.

Also, because I believe in natural law, which is to say that God has placed within the heart of every person a moral sense of right and wrong, I am not surprised to see this moral sense reflected in non-Christian religions.

I disagree with your friend that evil will always be an equal and opposite force to good (which is what zoroastrianism teaches) or that they are two sides of the same coin (like the yin and the yang).

The Biblical worldview is that evil is a perversion of the good with good being more powerful. Central to a Biblical worldview is the ultimate triumph of good over evil at the end of the age. That's what I believe and that is what I will continue to teach.

I also agree with your friend that we need to do good for goodness sake, because it is the right thing to do. The ultimate question is who or what determines what is right and what is wrong. As a Christian I believe that God the Creator is the sole person who determines what is good and what is evil.

Pete said...

Aaron,
Actually we got that. Your point isn't a bad one, it's the fact that you used Anne of......you know what, nevermind. Interesting talks about Buddhism. Some good points made there.
Pete

marhaban said...

Pete,

In your first post, you said, "God doesn't put us through more than we can handle,..."

I've heard this kind of thing said all my life, and I have been trying to find something solid that backs it up.

Do you know if there is a scripture that actually says that or something close to it?

I'm curious about the profanity issue also. That is a good topic.

Pete said...

Marhaban,
The most readily available answer I have to that is the following
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

1 Corinthians 10:13

Let me know if that answers your question.
Pete