Summary: This sermon is a reflection on the enjoyment of life as depicted by Solomon in Ecclesiastes. It tells us that we should learn to recognise the things that inhibit life and to live above life’s inhibitions.
Qoheleth, the Preacher, had made a thorough investigation of life. He had looked at life as seen by those who live without hope in God. He had confronted the pessimism and futility of life. He had experienced the emptiness and meaninglessness of life. Ultimately, questions that demand an answer arose: How do we counter the overpowering pessimism of life? How do we fill up that which is empty? How do we discover meaning in that which is futile?
In Eccl 11 Qoheleth provides the answer. He tells us that we should celebrate life, that we should seize the day. Carpe diem!
Negatively, this means that we should recognise those things that ward off our enjoyment of life.
First, there is a great uncertainty about life. We “do not know what disasters may come upon us” (11:2b) or what action of ours will succeed (11:6b). Life brings its share of disasters and crises. There are unexpected twists and turns. We are faced with the absence of any absolute guarantee.
Second, there is a degree of inevitability about life. When clouds are full of moisture, precipitation occurs. When a tree is cut down, it will remain where it falls (11:3). Life’s inevitability may be due to genetic composition and this is what makes us tick. It may be due to cultural disposition and this is what conditions us. It may also be due to the tyranny of time and this is what limits us.
Third, life’s enjoyment is limited by the speculation that surrounds life. “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap” (11:4). We often speculate about the effects of the past and reminisce about the “golden yesteryear” and regret the “lost moments.” We speculate about the precariousness of the future and see the future as either a “glorious vision” or simply a “dim tomorrow.” We even speculate about the distress of the present and we view it as “potential opportunity” or “torturous today.”
Fourth, life is inhibited by ignorance. We “do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb” and we “cannot understand the work of God” (11:5). Our ignorance may be due to insufficient knowledge, what we do not know. It may be due to our ignorance about the mysteries of life, what we cannot comprehend. It is certainly our ignorance about God and his work, what we cannot explain.
Last, we are unable to enjoy life because of the realism of life. We all know that one day we will get old or that we may have to face God’s judgement (11:8-9). Since we cannot change the future, we often feel that our lives are inconsequential. In the words of an old song, “Que serah, serah; what ever will be will be.” Life often appears empty and we all dread the thought of having to give an account of our lives.
Positively, carpe diem means that we must learn to live above life’s limitations.
Qoheleth urges us to live enterprisingly rather than timidly. He says, “Cast your bread on the waters, for after many days you will find it again” (11:1). He is saying that we should always attempt great things even when that may seem out of place. Vincent van Gogh once said: “Man is not on this earth merely to be happy, nor even to be simply honest. He is there to realise great things for humanity, to attain nobility and to surmount the vulgarity in which the existence of individuals drags on.” We should also attempt unexpected things and view life as an adventure. We should not be content with stereotypes and status quo but rather we should grasp every possible opportunity to grow. We should not be content with mediocrity but rather strive to excel. As an old Burmese proverb states: “He who aims at excellence will be above mediocrity; he who aims at mediocrity will be far short of it.” We should carry an optimistic mind-set because we can look out of our windows and see either the stars or the mud.
Qoheleth encourages us to live generously rather than miserly. We should live to give, not to hoard. In Living on the Ragged Edge, 317, Charles Swindoll writes: “Don’t put your bread in deep freeze, it’ll dry out. Don’t store it up in the pantry or seal it in the baggie, it’ll mould. Don’t hoard it, thinking that it needs protecting, release it.” As my Dad used to say, we should live with an open hand rather than a clenched fist. We should live to bless rather than to want blessing for “we make a living by what we get out of life, but we make a life by what we give.”