Solomon is now looking carefully at life in the breath. He has considered that only God can bring beauty into the life because he has appointed every season and time for his purposes. Yet when Solomon looks carefully into the breath, he sees much that is not beautiful, in fact, much that is ugly. Solomon is a realist, it doesn’t do to ignore the harsh realities of life, but he knows the must be explored, discerned. He’s not running from the hard questions, but realizes that if he really wants to make full sense of life, he’s got to evaluate both the good and the bad.
This brings us to the problem of evil - for Solomon observes much that would be fittingly described as evil. If God is sovereign over all things - does this mean that he is also sovereign over evil? Solomon in this chapter pears into the problem of what we might call institutional or structural evil - evil that corrupts our social systems, specifically he considers our systems of justice and economics. What’s the problem with these two systems - we are. We made them and we use them and we are used by them.
As we begin Chapter 3, Solomon is going to press the argument he is making further by describing the activities of this God in our world. This is the key section in the entire book of Ecclesiastes, and it should be clear now that Solomon’s argument is not that everything is meaningless or futile - our striving may be futile, yes, but life itself cannot be, for God is, like a masterful conductor, setting every event and season of all of our lives together for his purpose. This is not the work of an absent, disinterested God, but of a God who is intimately involved in the day-to-day, moment-to-moment unfolding of our lives. And the key idea of this section - the answer Ecclesiastes gives to the problems of the breath and the dish is that: Every Moment of Our Lives is Appointed By God and Therefore, there is beauty to be found in the breath.
The section we are looking at today, is by far what Ecclesiastes is best known for - the preacher’s personal search for meaning and value in this world. It is such a pivotal and provocative section that some interpreters of Ecclesiastes never get beyond it and interpret the entire book through the themes of this chapter. I don’t go that far, but I will say personally, that the argument and the experience set forth in this chapter are convincing to me, so convincing to me that it has carried me through my own seasons of doubt or times in which I have been tempted to give up my faith.
I want to start today by talking about dishes. You may think, what do dishes have to do with Ecclesiastes. You may know that Ecclesiastes is one of the most philosophical and complex books of the Bible, but I’m starting out the beginning of the series by telling you it's about dishes. See, here is the mystery of dishes. Think about the dishes in your home. You wash them everyday, every meal. You prepare the water, the soap, the sponge; set your dirty dishes in order, wash them, scrub them, rinse them; set them in the drying rack, wipe down the counter, the sink; set the soap and the sponge back in their designated places. And then you leave the room for a minute - and come back to find more dirty dishes in the sink! Where did they come from? How did they get there? And guess what: they will be there tomorrow and the next day and everyday of your meaningless life! And that’s an exaggeration - your life isn’t meaningless … but it will feel meaningless because you spend it all doing dishes! How much time do you spend doing dishes? Well, according to a study in “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life”, the average American woman spends 66 minutes a week doing dishes, the average American man 42 minutes. What is funny is that when they asked men and women how much they thought they did dishes, women said 5 1/2 hours and men 2 hours 40 minutes! So we don’t actually spend all that much time doing dishes - it just feels like we do! And if it is not dishes, its laundry, or commuting, or shopping, or changing kids diapers, or sitting at your desk doing the daily grind, or scrolling and scrolling and surfing and scrolling, whatever, so many tedious things that need to be done every day, just to live. How many times have you woken up with amazing plans of what to do today, and then past through the day and wonder what you did?
Whenever I’m trying to figure out our next sermon series I reflect back on conversations I’ve had with you and I brainstorm notes. Some of the topics I wrote down on that reflection were things like, dealing with the monotony of life, finding my purpose, struggling with anxiety or a feeling that I am missing out, what’s God’s point in putting me in a dead end job, how do I redeem the moments of my life and live for something greater, what do I do about these doubts and hard questions that creep in at night - these were all things I jotted down and as I reflected on them, as often happens, a book of the Bible came into focus and I realize that it addresses head-on many of the topics and issues that I had written down. And so that brings us to the Book of Ecclesiastes. For Ecclesiastes teaches us how to deal with the dish-iness of life. Today I want to just look at the first few verses, and really get to the question that the Preacher raises: