Relaxing Our Control Grip

From Zack Eswine’s new book, Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (P&R, 2014), 188–9:

If something goes well in your day, no matter how small, celebrate over it! No more wondering if you can be happy about good things. No more needing to wait and pray to discover whether it is okay with God whether you smile or not. “In the day of prosperity be joyful” (Eccl. 7:14)!

In college, when our team won a big game, our motto sounded something like this: “In the day of prosperity, get drunk and destroy stuff!” You may need to learn again what it means to truly celebrate something. God will teach you. Each day becomes full of small but genuine smiles when we take up joy in response to good things. A great deal of happiness is passing some of us by because we think that when a good thing happens we are supposed to consider it rather than get on with rejoicing over it.

In contrast, “in the day of adversity consider” (Eccl. 7:14). Let the tough stuff sink in. Don’t run from it. Don’t use god-talk to pretend it doesn’t exist. Set your heart and mind on the awful thing. No evil thing can ultimately win. The foulest thing will reveal something true about the nature of life and the nobler purposes we were made for. Take time, lots of time, the time needed to grieve, ask questions, wrestle with it, work it out, and come to terms.

Why? Because though this is a mystery, we need to stand on this truth, that no matter what happens in our lives, God holds on to us and maintains his purposes for us. “God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (Eccl. 7:14). We cannot make crooked things straight. We can’t fix everything.

Now the Preacher humbles us to free us again by telling us that we can’t know everything. A certain amount of ignorance attends everything we do — particularly when it comes to trying to figure out how it is that God governs and ordains both the good and the bad that happens in our lives and in the world. Solomon doesn’t attempt to answer what we cannot know. Instead, he focuses on what we do know. Both good things and bad things happen to us. God is within the thing either way. This means that something larger than our prosperity and something larger than our adversity has a hold on us.

What does this mean? We get to lighten up. All our energy spent in trying to control and preserve our lives is next to worthless. “There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing” (Eccl. 7:15). There is no secret formula to life that if you could just figure it out or get in with God well enough, you could make everything happen the way you hope. . . .

The whirlwind in your mind constantly trying to figure out everything in order to hold everything together is like chasing after the wind. We add wear and tear to our lives that God does not ask of us. “Why should you destroy yourself?” (Eccl. 7:16).

For others of us, we can stop acting as if, because we don’t know everything and can’t fix everything, nothing matters. We can stop with the excuses we use to justify the constant wandering and harm that we inflict on others and ourselves.

God has the last word on our pain. God has the last word on our joy. Behind every pain, God is there letting nothing and no one separate us from him in Jesus. Behind every joy, God is there generously and graciously giving us something to rest happy about.

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