Psalm 74:10–17; Ecclesiastes 1:1–3:8; 2 Corinthians 11:12–15

Psalm 74:10–17: The psalmist poses the question that in today’s arrogant culture that is actively rejecting or merely indifferent to God that many Christians are asking themselves: “Until when, O God, will the foe insult,/ the enemy revile Your name forever?” (10) In his next question, the psalmist is implicitly telling God what he wishes God would do: “Why do You draw back Your hand,/ and in Your right hand hold in Your bosom?” (11) These lines express a deep desire that we all feel from time to time: Why doesn’t God just come in at the end of the movie and dramatically demonstrate his power–or more crudely–beat the daylights out of the mockers, the scoffers, the indifferent and show them just who’s boss?

But real life is not a movie, and I think our psalmist realizes that in the next verse when he pauses to reflect and realizes that God is indeed active on the earth as Creator, who has doubtless intervened in ways he (and we) do not know of: “Yet God is my king of old,/ worker of rescues in the midst of the earth.” (12) and who indeed has been beneficent: “You crushed the Leviathan’s heads,/ You gave him as food to the desert-folk.” (14) I’m confident that God intervenes through loving people today, as well. It only seems like the culture has triumphed.

Like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we need to pause and reflect on what the world might have been like if God had not been present. Who knows how dark and evil our civilization might have been? In fact, the psalmist realizes that God is something far greater than the sheriff who rides in and kicks out the bad guys. God is ruler and Creator of all that exists:

16 Yours is the day, also Yours the night.
It was You Who founded the light and the sun.
17 It was You Who laid down all the boundaries of earth,
summer and winter, You fashioned them.

And that is where we are to rejoice. God may feel absent but he is indeed present.

Ecclesiastes 1:1–3:8: The inscription for this book ascribes it to “son of David, king in Jerusalem,” Solomon, written in his old age. Maybe, but its authorship has been hotly debated for centuries. The alternative may Qoheleth, who is mentioned seven times in this book but nowhere else in Scripture (and is my vote). Whatever its authorship, the book is remarkable on many levels. It evokes a dark, almost cynical, view of humankind–certainly the opposite of the psalms which celebrate God’s creative energy.  Unlike most of the books in the Bible, it is not written in a linear, historical way, but keeps circling back on itself. We hear the same themes over and over, and endless cycle, which only deepens the sense of dark brooding that underlies virtually every word of this book.

Nevertheless, to our modern ears and eyes, many passages seem to have been written last week. Its relevance to our current human condition is stunning. And nowhere do we receive a greater existential shock than in its opening verse:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.” (2)

I prefer the KJV’s “vanity,” for its poetic qualities, but “meaningless” gives us a clue to the heart and mind of the author–and for our post-modern era, completely on target. Meaninglessness seems to arise out of never-ending cyclicality:

4 Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.

And perhaps the root of all this meaninglessness has been the author’s claim to seek wisdom: “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.” (1:17-18) [I certainly sense some editorial irony here in the actions of the compilers of Scripture, who placed Ecclesiastes immediately following Proverbs– a compendium of wisdom.]

For Qoheleth/Solomon, it’s all meaningless: laughter (2:2), wine (2:3), great building projects (2:4), farming (:5), wealth (2:7, 8), hedonism (2:8), power (2:9)

Briefly, he thinks, “I saw that wisdom is better than folly,/ just as light is better than darkness.” 92:13), but it, too, leads to nothingness: “The wise have eyes in their heads,/…but I came to realize/ that the same fate overtakes them both.” (2:14)

But then, within this meaningless cyclicality, we encounter one of the most profound and beautiful poems ever written; the one we all know that begins,”There is a time for everything,/ and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (3:1) I think the seasonality of life is the gift of cyclicality. There are times and places for everything. Our task is to know when they are–and to respond accordingly. Without seasons I think we would be completely lost, with absolutely nothing to hold on to. And perhaps even our author realizes that some meaning may lay in what at first encounter seems meaningless.

2 Corinthians 11:12–15: Paul is on a tear and lets loose his real opinion of these “super-apostles,” who claim superiority to Paul. For Paul, they are his implacable foe and he will show them: “I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about.” (12)  His fiery passion and anger lashes out at them: “ For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.” (13) And he goes so far as to call them agents of Satan: “ It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (15).

Wow. Hardly the image of the wimpy Christians we hear so much about. However, I think it’s important to note that Paul is speaking about conditions inside the church, not to the world at large. In fact it is his concern for the world that has made him so angry about these people pretending to preach the Gospel.

Would even the Pope say such a thing today? Or do we always fall back on our “turn the other cheek” posture and let corruption in the church have its day? I think that in his ongoing efforts to clean up the Vatican stables, Pope Francis reflects the fiery passion we see here in this angry passage.

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