January 3: Finding Comfort in a Cynic’s Words
Genesis 5; Matthew 5; Ecclesiastes 1:12–18
“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after the wind” (Eccl 1:14). These aren’t exactly the words you want to hear in the morning—look who woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The intention behind them, though, is actually quite comforting.
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes goes on to prove that he doesn’t need counseling, but instead should be our counselor: “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted … I have acquired great wisdom … [But] in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Eccl 1:15–16, 18). And although we may want to deny this fact, it’s a truism that haunts all great people: we may help the hurting people in our world, but we will never be able to end the pain and knowledge alone will simply not get us there. Words on paper are not the solution. A manifesto, like the Declaration of Independence, may prompt great change, but what is it without action? It is vanity. It’s a striving after the wind.
Delusion of importance has crushed many great people’s efforts. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s what keeps most people from becoming what God wants them to be. And it’s not just the delusion of grandeur; it’s the delusion of insignificance or the distraction of focus. You become what you do, and what you think, write, speak, or feel, is meaningless if it’s not what you do.
We as Christians are meant to act. As Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, by what will it be made salty? It is good for nothing any longer except to be thrown outside and trampled under foot by people” (Matt 5:13). If we are salt, let’s be salty. If we are light, let’s shine brightly (Matt 5:14). Anything other than that is vain. It’s searching for knowledge for knowledge’s sake. It leaves both us and the world empty.
There is comfort to be found in the Preacher of Ecclesiastes’ words in that he is telling us, albeit through harshness and well-put cynicism, that we’re meant for more than we usually recognize. He calls us to rise to that: to shun the unimportant and focus on God’s work. What good is wisdom and knowledge if it’s not for that purpose?
What are you currently delusional about? What’s vain that you’re doing that God wishes for you to change?
Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
- This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created Adam, in the likeness of God made he him, Male and female created he them, and blessed the, and called their name Adam in the day that they were created. Now Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a child in his own likeness after his image, and called his name Seth. And the days of Adam, after he had begotten Seth, were eight hundred years, and he begat sons and daughters. So all the days of Adam lived, were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died. And Set lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enosh. And Set lived after he begat Enosh, eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters. So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died. Likewise Cainan lived seventy years, and begat Mahalalel. And Cainan lived, after he begat Mahalalel, eight hundred and forty years, and begat sons and daughters. So all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years: and he died. Mahalalel also lived sixty five years, after he begat Jared, eight hundred and fifty years, and begat sons and daughters. So all the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died. And Jared lived an hundred sixty and two years, and begat Enosh. Then Jared lived, after he begat Enoch, eight hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. So all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years: and he died. Also Enosh lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah. And Enoch walked with God, and he was no more seen: for God took him away. Methuselah also lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech. And Methuselah lived, after he begat Lamech, seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters. So all the days of Methusaleh were nine hundred and sixty years, and he died. Then Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son. And called his name, Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and sorrow of our hands, as touching the earth, which the Lord hath cursed. And Lamech lived, after he begat Noah, five hundred ninety five years, and begat sons and daughters. So all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy seven years: and he died. And Noah was five hundred years old. And Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Genesis 5)
- Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5)
- I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jersualem: And I have given mine heart to search out and find wisdom by all things that are done under the heaven: (this sore travail hath God given to the sons of men, to humble them thereby.) I have considered all the works that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity, and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked, can none make straight: and that which faileth, cannot be numbered. I thought in mine heart, and said, Behold, I am become great, and excel in wisdom all them that have been before me in Jerusalem: and mine heart hath seen much wisdom and knowledge. And I gave mine heart to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and foolishness: I knew also that this is a vexation of spirit. For in the multitude of wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)