It's Not Fair | Ecclesiastes 3:16-22
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ecclesiastes 3:16–3:22
Introduction | Rewind
Good morning! This week we are continuing our series of Ecclesiastes called The Pursuit: Chasing Meaning Under the Sun. Where do we go to find wisdom, meaning, and purpose? What is the point of all our accomplishments? Where is our hope when we life is met with failure or even simple toil and boredom? Is this all there is to life? In life under the sun all seems to be vanity as we struggle to find our purpose and meaning apart from God. The message of this sermon of Ecclesiastes isn’t all of life is meaningless and nothing matters; it’s because of God as the source of all meaning, and goodness, as we live the life we are given EVERYTHING matters! Our pursuit in this series is to mine the wisdom of The Preacher in the hopes of seeing and understanding the world, our lives, as they truly are, as accurately as possible.
Previously we’ve seen a generation comes and goes; the sun rises and sets, wind blows in circuits. These were all signs of our finiteness and a source of pessimism for our lives under the sun because it meant this is all there is. As we transitioned from the first two chapters to chapter 3 we began to see hope, the curtains in the dark basement laboratory have been pulled back and now things can be seen clearly for what they are. The light illuminates and warms our experiences; things that seemed to be meaningless are now seen as purposeful when we see three is a God who is sovereign over all times and seasons, a God who purses what has been driven away. As bright the light coming in every basement still has it shadows. In our basement world there is still the question of what do with all the injustice we see. Where can we go to appeal for justice? If God is sovereign over time and seasons why does he allow injustice? Where is hope?
Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?
Verse 16 -17 |
We’ve got a problem in this world that casts a dark shadows under the sun. In a world without regard to God, His ways, or gratitude for what he’s given us, we can easily see that injustice and wicked has invaded and impacted even places of justice and righteousness. Places which should serve as refuges of justice and righteousness have been corrupted and defiled. We see abuse, brokenness, and even wickedness in churches, in families, in government, in our role models, and heroes. When we see brokenness we want it fixed; we see wickedness we want justice. Where can we appeal for justice? Oh certainly in the courts and our judicial system we will see justice served. We have an ideal that justice is a blindfolded lady holding out balanced scales, but ideals are not reality. Every human court is made up of people all “under the sun” using man’s wisdom (or lack thereof) to render their judgements. Moreover, they are prone to be blatantly corrupt and regularly render head scratching verdicts. We are looking to man-made institutions to try to find righteousness, and cure injustice. When we do; we find them failing and we wonder why and become despondent with apparent totality of injustice. According to Martin Luther, The Preacher is, “Not complaining because there is wickedness in the place of justice but because the wickedness in the place of justice cannot be corrected.” We’re told early and often “Life isn’t …. Fair!” Yet “It’s not FAIR” is our cry from playroom to the court room! Isaiah 5: 20,23 20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, …. 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!
While we are often blindly self-focused; there are moments of clarity when a holy frustration at our inability to confront and correct the injustices in the world burst into our view. The preacher has seen the wickedness “under the sun” and now he wants answer for it. Enter Verse 17, “I said, but God will Judge!!” There is a day of supreme judgement. Earlier it is said God makes everything beautiful in its time. These verses don’t exist in vacuums but are part of the same stream of thought. We can easily forget when we see injustice and wickedness that God sees it too. He is not blind or unaware. If Chapter 3 says there is a time for everything then here we see there is a specific time for justice. YEAH!! Give it to them!! Call out the wicked!! The problem is we have a completely perverted view of what is wicked and what is right. We think we’re righteous and that we’re the judge of the world, yet that’s not true God is. There is ONE Supreme Court and Judge and it is not us. Gen 18:25 Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?
If there is a time for everything and God makes everything beautiful in it’s time then there must be a time for justice. God’s judgement is a comprehensive judgement. We hate movies and stories that end with the evil and wicked not getting a form of justice. It’s not enough for the good guy win in order for there to be true justice the bad guy needs to lose. When we’re quick to cry out for justice it is because we think we’ve balanced the scales on the side of righteousness. We cannot read this and think that we’re the ones who are righteous. But we forget we’re the wicked and we not only want mercy we need it! Romans 3:10 “None is righteous, no, not one; What about…. No!
We are completely unaccountable people. We like the ideal of accountability; until is calls us on something we don’t like. We don’t think or dwell on our wickedness for even a moment. Some of us are incapable of forgiving ourselves while others of us are shameless to our sin. Who are you when no one is watching? The truth is God is always watching. Oh, we don’t like that part. We like to think that God only sees us on Sunday or in our Road Group or when things are going well. He see it ALL!!!! Let that sink in for a second!!
2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
God is NOT indifferent to injustice; he cares deeply about it, even the injustice and wickedness of our own sin. God is just, God is patient, and He has His purposes. God will judge in God’s own time! Thank God he does not judge us in our time frame. We also have to be patient to wait out God’s timing, this requires faith that God is good, God is just. In Rev 6 we see martyrs cry out for justice “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
Verse 18-20 | Nothing but Animals
Why does God delay justice!? We get into an interesting section that declares God is testing humanity to show us something. Let’s be clear on the “testing” God already knows who we are. He’s not like “Hey, I wonder how they’ll handle this?! The testing is not a revelation for God but intended to be a revelation for us. We get a display of our own ignorance, nature, and destiny apart from him. The verdict is NOT good.
Another translation for verse 18 is “They by themselves are but beasts.” I love the word “beast” because it removes any sort of cuddly Disney version of animals. Man without God, his rule over us, and the dignity He bestows to us are as civilized as a naked ape. We think we’re the top of the food chain but on our own we are more like cattle then we care to admit. The next verses show the many similarities:
We are like beasts in that we are all created by God. He gives us, and them, breath and life. We live they live. We eat, they eat. We reproduce, they reproduce. We have no real advantage over animals because we will die as well. “Under the sun” we have the same fate. They die, we die. We come from the earth and go back into it. We are fragile and finite, they are fragile and finite. If you or a rabbit get ran over by a truck your fate on this earth is the same as ours is. You lose. Our life and death are both vanity.
The world “under the sun” does not believe we are created. It has told us that reality and our existence is merely has told us that we were beast but through our species evolutionary striving and natural selection we have become men and women, set apart/above, but at the same time not really. We’re just winners of evolutionary lottery. What about human dignity? What is that if we’re just highly evolved beasts? Bloodhound Gang in 1999 had a song that declared boldly “you and me baby ain’t nothing by mammals so let’s… act like it.” In the video they wore monkey suits, how fitting!
The animal kingdom is incredibly cruel, competitive, bloody, and destructive. (I’ve been watching Planet Earth with the kids and watching wolves eat young deer, and sharks chomp down on seals.) They are completely consumed with their own self-interest. Does a whale ever consider the mass genocide that occurs with every swallow of millions of plankton? Do we weep over that? Should we? We have our relationships with animals completely of kilter. “Meat is murder?” Really?! I saw a man stop I-405 for a dead duck.
The Grizzly Man (Steve Tredwell) believed falsely that animals would reason and respect life like people.
Beasts have no concept of right or wrong, no morality, no sense of justice. Our history is littered with gross injustice. Why not kill each other to establish dominance, why not compete for food and resources. Why not eat our young. Why not oppress the weak? If this is all there is then get as much of it as you can and forget the consequences to yourself or others. When you are told your entire life you’re nothing more than a beast we shouldn’t be surprised when people act beastly. Ideas have consequences; you cannot claim there is a unique dignity or value to human life when you equate us to merely animals. Is dignity of human life something you contemplate? Is compassion a word you would use to describe our culture or our own hearts? There are great real world consequences when we don’t. Human history is gale force scream of what happens when we undervalue human life and equate it to animals. The greatest injustices in our recent history can all be easily summarized by what happens we declare groups of people “less than fully human.” We tell our selves it’s getting better but daily news coverage tells a different story.
When we declare our independence from God we do not become more godly, we become more beastly.
God’s word says the opposite: It says we are created, like beast but set apart by God. There are some great similarities to beasts but we have to remember where our identity, value, and dignity is found.
Genesis 1:27-28 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
We are called to be fruitful and multiply and animals multiply. But we are given an additional charge that sets us apart and above the beasts. God has blessed us and called to have dominion (not domination) There is a difference: Rather than cultivate, teach, train, and give directional intent — rather than protect, promote, and empower the potential — domination is subversion, control, abuse, violence, intimidation, manipulation, and insidious pleasure of pain. Because of our rejection of God’s call on our lives and sin we are less like God and more like the beasts who have forgotten they are created.
Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Thanatophobia the fear of death; we all have it at some level. “I’m not afraid to die I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, the preacher says we will all suffer the same fate as simple beasts. However, at this point what the preacher is saying is wrong…. Remember Ecclesiastes isn’t always the destination but part of the path.
Psalm 49:12, 15 12 Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish. 15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. So we see here it’s is our pride that makes us a beast which has no ability to worship anyone but ourselves. In our pride, we think we are gods when the reality is we die like animals. What is your response to the certainty of your mortality? What answer do you have? This is an important question! How can we know? Where do we look to find some hope?
Verse 21-22 | Where is the hope?
So what if this is all there is and when we die we’re just like animals? Our soul/spirit, whatever, just ends and goes back to earth like our body. It’s call annihilation-ism. It’s hopeless, in that provides nothing for the future, but it comforts in that judgement is final at death and not eternal., you just….end. If there is a sense of judgement at death what is our destiny? What is going to happen? Is there something special about us?
Who knows? This is an honest agnostic question. We’re not going to find the answer in this part of Ecc. But the preacher can wrestle with it for a moment because he knows there is a greater truth.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
There is a distinction between humanity and animals in what follows this life. We will be held accountable and our souls will dwell in eternity. God will deal with us. Unless we know and have the assurance of eternal life we’ll never have real joy in our lives today. There is a freedom a joy in our work when we realize this is not all there is. Why? Because when it’s not going well we have hope of something greater and when it is going well we know it is but a shadow of what is to come! If God is sovereign over all time, he puts eternity into our hearts, has a purpose even in allowing injustice to occur, and He holds our eternal destiny of our souls in His hands we can have gratitude, worship, and enjoyment in our life now.
2 Corinthians 5: 6-8 6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Who can give us a vision of what will come after us? Jesus! He’s been through death and come out the other side. He died on the cross, was buried in the tomb, and is alive! In Jesus, we see the greatest injustice in history at the cross!!! Sinless Jesus, fully God, and fully man, and he is treated worse than a dog.
Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
The Gospel is not fair because if it was fair we’d all be on the cross instead of Jesus. That is why we Trust Jesus!
More in THE PURSUIT | Ecclesiastes
January 3, 2016Season Finale | Ecclesiastes 12:1-14
December 20, 2015Bridled Joy | Ecclesiastes 11:1-10
December 13, 2015Farmers Market of Foolishness | Ecclesiastes 10:1-20