Summary: Life is not going into circles. Like the threads on a screw, we either are spiraling up or down,
The Death Spiral or the Life Spiral?
Last week, the word “time” dominated the Preacher’s thought. We learned that though at first it seemed like the Preacher was on the right track from our Christian point of view, this was not the case for Him. God had his time to do everything for His own purpose, but that knowledge did not make it down to us. The Preacher for all his observation and wisdom did not have a clue what God was up to which sounds like he was accusing God of keeping the human race in the dark. But is that true. Has God indeed kept us in the dark? We will see the answer to this when we look at this week’s text. It is not that the Preacher will find it, nevertheless it will be demonstrated that the Preacher is dead wrong.
In this passage, the Preacher saw the way things were done under the sun. Instead of justice and fairness, there was wickedness and iniquity. Note that the Preacher is simply an observer. He doesn’t life a finger to rectify the situation. This would be especially troubling if the Preacher was the king. Even assuming that Solomon wrote the book, it is possible that he used the Preacher as a literary fiction. It might have been partially autobiographical, but it seems to me that he uses the persona of the Preacher for any person who sees things with only the eyes of worldly wisdom. Whatever views the person under the sun has of God is bound to be distorted if not outright wrong.
Greed, wickedness, and selfishness if left unchecked leads to ruin of any society. The rich get richer and oppress the poor. Unlike the enemy that comes without and plunders the treasure of the vanquished, the wicked society is cannibalistic and plunders its own treasure and consumes it. The Preacher saw that nothing was being done about it. In fact, we see in this book that the Preacher contributed to this problem of inequality.
The Preacher seems to grasp the common idea that only God can end human oppression. He is right in this assessment. He believes that God will bring the wicked into judgment. If we follow Paul’s argument in Romans 1, God has put this knowledge into the hearts of all people. People of course try to suppress this truth as well as all the truths of God, but once in a while it comes out. God will bring all things into judgment at His appointed time.
Now the Preacher makes a U-turn. God also puts into the hearts of all that they are sinners. The Preacher also knows that he is unjust. The prospects of judgment terrify him. So in verse eighteen, the attempt to suppress this truth begins. Just like in Romans, it starts by turning away from a comparison of God and man created in His image to what humans share in common with the beasts. Paul tells us that this turning leads to a downward spiral which ends in death. The worship of the true God is suppressed and other gods replace Him. First humanoid gods, then beasts, then snakes and creeping things. People would rather worship creation rather than the creator. In this spiral, human morality breaks down and men begin to act like animals. The Preacher says that part of the judgment is to show humans that they are animals. Paul is more precise when He says that the judgment of God was to give them up to their useless gods and animalistic passions.
The next level of suppression occurs in verse nineteen. The big thing that all animals including humans have in common is death. When one believes on the truth, one sees that God has separated humans from the herd. Only man is created in God’s image. Man was not created to die. Death was the curse of disobedience to God when Adam and Eve turned their gaze from the Everlasting God to the creature, the serpent. So the Preacher is headed in the wrong direction here, which means that we can expect that his thinking will become increasingly more unorthodox.
It does not take long to see the next descent into the abyss. The preacher continues down this trail in that he notes that “both go to the same place” and are rendered into dust. Therefore man is not better off than the animals. The next thing he comes to is that from a view like his, there is no hope of an afterlife. It may be, but who knows? The natural conclusion of this way of thinking is since God does not seem overly concerned about bringing people to justice in this life for their wickedness or at best in an arbitrary manner, and the afterlife is questionable at best, then there is no judgment of God at all. This is the common suppression of the truth which is just as true today as it was then.