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Overview of Ecclesiastes: Finding Joy in the 'Shadowlands' Part 3

In our previous post, we noted that we are in for a surprise. There is more than tears and pessimism awaiting us in the book of Ecclesiastes. For our reading guide, Zack Eswine, in Recovering Eden, reminds us that ‘the Preacher’ calls us to a ‘sacred worldliness.’ What does he mean by this?

“Because there is no ‘gain’ available to us in the world that can satisfy our soul hunger, we might think that therefore we are to find what satisfies us outside of the world. Finding God beyond the world, the things of the earth will therefore ‘grow strangely dim,’ and we will no longer concern ourselves with earthly things.

“But you will discover that the writer of Ecclesiastes will not lead us to this ‘other-worldly’ directive. His problem is not that we are seeking gain in the wrong place and therefore we need to leave the place in order to find what satisfies us. The place is not our problem. Our use of it is.”

That is, earthly things are not necessarily the problem – what we try to do with them is. When we try to use them for a ‘gain’ that they cannot and were never intended to provide, this is the problem. Hence, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the sense of the ‘gain’ they offer us in comparison to the satisfaction of the soul provided for by the One who created and redeemed us. ‘But in terms of their own worth and value in his hands, as we see the Lord, we will actually begin to see the things of the earth more brilliantly in their proper light.’ Eswine then concludes:

“This then is the surprise! Learning a sacred lament and cynicism will not forbid us from finding pleasure in seeing the sun even while meaninglessness bustles about beneath it. Even more surprising is that the ‘gain’ we are meant to have and that we all long for will come from God now, in much the same fashion as it did for Adam and Eve in Eden. Like them, we will learn by grace not to use the place to find the gain we truly require. But like them, neither will that gain come by trying to escape once-Eden or God. Rather, we will learn gain in God among the ordinary joys of his giving.”

The result of this sacred worldliness is the discovery and recovery of true joy (true gain). With God, even amid the meaninglessness, the madness, the lament, and the cynicism, a human being ‘will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart’ (Eccles. 5:20).

In a wonderful use of our Westminster Shorter Catechism, Eswine concludes:

“So, when the [WSC] instructs us that our purpose in life is to glorify and enjoy God forever, it is as if the book of Ecclesiastes asks the question: ‘Where do we glorify and enjoy God forever?’ The answer is: ‘Right here where you are under the sun.’

“Then it raises and answers another question: ‘How do we glorify and enjoy God right where we are? For where we are is filled with meaninglessness, madness, and empty pleasures.’ It will answer: ‘By recovering Eden and learning to find true gain in the ‘‘withness’ of God’ among ordinary things.”

The book of Ecclesiastes is one of God’s gifts to help us live in the real world. Will you pray for us as we preach through this book? Will you invite others to join you as we work our way through this explosive book? I eagerly anticipate being with you in worship this Lord’s Day. Grace and peace.

For His Glory,