Summary: Solomon confronts the popular view of prosperity in chapter 6. People equate wealth with happiness. Solomon warns that people who live apart from God are “never satisfied”.
Overcoming Futility, a Sermon Series on Ecclesiastes
“Your Arms are Too Short to Box With God -chapter 6 >Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
As actor Tommy Lee Jones prepared for his latest movie, “The Three Burials”, he studied the book of Ecclesiastes. He explained that Ecclesiastes was a key to understanding his character, a man struggling with alienation and despair. We learn from Solomon that people can be both prosperous and hopeless. “The way we see life shapes our lives” (Warren).
Solomon confronts the popular view of prosperity in chapter 6. People equate wealth with happiness. Solomon warns that people who live apart from God are “never satisfied”. He challenges the whole idea of “worldly wisdom”, claiming that the worldly wise have little advantage over the foolish. Both end up with futile lives if God’s not in the picture. Solomon is repeating that material prosperity isn’t always good, and that hardships aren’t always evil. Things aren’t as they seem; affluence isn’t so great without the capacity to enjoy life.
Over the years I’ve visited some magnificent historic homes and castles. I imagine some of you have been to Newport, Rhode Island to see the mansions. Do you ever wonder if the residents were truly happy? Solomon says in verse 2 that many wealthy people are miserable, and that strangers enjoy their possessions instead. I’ve thought of this while touring various mansions, enjoying without owning.
One of the most admired thinkers of the 20th Century was Sigmund Freud. Yet this great mind admitted that he was terrified with the idea of death and non-existence, that all his wisdom was meaningless if this life was the only life. Freud spent his life a broken man, living in the valley of the shadow of death, with no hope for a future beyond the grave. He rejected God; he fought against the very idea of God, and faced death with despair. The certainty of death does removes hope if we live without faith.
Years ago I saw a Broadway musical, “Your Arms are Too Short to Box With God”, a lively celebration of African American worship (little did I know at the time that I would serve as Chaplain for two Gospel services). The message of the play was straight-forward: God is God, and we are not. God may permit what He hates in our lives to build our faith. Faith is strengthened by hard times, not by times of comfort and ease. As we struggle with life, we may even get angry with God, yet we realize how futile it is to wrestle with some of the inexplicable issues of life. C.S. Lewis observed, “To argue with God is to argue with the very power that makes it possible to argue at all.” We eventually stop boxing and accept…maybe even learn from our pain…maybe even go on to comfort and encourage others. God’s working on us--let’s not fight Him. Solomon warns in verse 10, “no one can contend with one who is stronger than he.”
Businesses claim in their advertising, “Your satisfaction’s guaranteed.” The message of Ecclesiastes was (ungrammatically) sung by Mick Jagger at this year’s Super Bowl: “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Seattle sure didn’t get any, and no one can achieve satisfaction without trust in God. Even winning can be a let-down if this life is all there is. Pleasure often masks anguish. In a life lived apart from God, satisfaction is not guaranteed. We need to think about what we lose when we go the world’s way. In God’s grand scheme, it matters little who wins the Super Bowl; what matters more is how we conduct our lives.
Solomon offers a depressing scenario in verses 3-6 to those “under the sun” who see God as irrelevant and are struggling to make sense of life with secular wisdom. A stillborn child is better off than a person whose life lacks meaning. No amount of material prosperity matters if we cannot understand and appreciate life in God’s world. The wealthy have no advantage over the poor if their lives lack purpose. Jesus cautions, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” People lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore their health. By worrying about the future, and by obsessing over the past they can’t live in the present. Mark Twain reflected, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Worriers live in misery and die without having lived.
Wise people admit they’re often relieved God doesn’t grant them all they desire, because God’s answers are wiser than our prayers. I heard of a young man who was infatuated with a beautiful girl, and he prayed, “Lord, if I could just go with that girl I’d be the happiest guy alive.” He asked her for a date, and they went out together…and he found himself praying, “Lord, if I could just get rid of this girl I’d be the happiest guy alive.” Did he really know what was best for him? Be careful what you ask for, you just may get it! “All man’s efforts are for his mouth,” verse 7. In other words, people live for self, which can only lead to lawlessness. Another translation puts it this way: “We work to feed our appetites; meanwhile our souls go hungry” (the Message).