Is Life Hevel?

In the last Sunday of 2018, I was given the opportunity to preach at LakeRidge, which is where I work. I felt the inspiration to tackle a big topic in under 30 minutes. That topic was the meaning of life in the book of Ecclesiastes, focusing on chapter 1. You’re thinking to yourself that is crazy, and someone who is truly a novice should not be tackling such a large complex topic. You speak the truth, but I like tackling and communicating difficult things. Overall, when I listen back to my sermon; I don’t give myself a passing grade, but I still have much to learn about communicating.

I thought it best to make my sermon more dialogical, less monological. Now, a sermon is by nature a monologue. Most of my training is to get up and present my ideas, sources, etc. Thus, you can imagine that doing something like that is truly difficult, which is why I don’t think I did bad, but I didn’t do well either (if I was grading myself). Another way to think about it, I didn’t hit it out of the park, but I do think I had a good double. Also, I am my biggest critic.

As I prepared to preach this sermon and this book, I was confronted by the book’s construction and how the author(s) went about making the point. The main point of Ecclesiastes is to deconstruct all the way we find meaning and purpose apart from God. The author does this by launching a thought experiment for the reader to engage in and reflect alongside the author. So, I felt that my normal academic and rigorous way of constructing my arguments, etc. was useless because I would be forcing the text to do something in which it was not designed to do. The book is constructed as a monologue, yet also a dialogue. It is as if we are flies on the wall to this person’s conversation.

As I have been stating above, the book of Ecclesiastes is a thought experiment done in a conversation over life’s meaning. Qohelet, the one who is speaking for much of Ecclesiastes, states that life is hevel. Thus, this word hevel is what takes center stage throughout the book to find something that isn’t hevel. The book can be seen as defining the word. Throughout the book, hevel is then pictured in two distinct ways: 1) temporary and fleeting, like smoke, and 2) engima or paradox, like knowing whether someone will love you or hate you.

My brother, Joel, and his wife, Cre, offered a helpful note for me to remember to not get too heady, but to deliver content that could be manageable for a large audience. I have been known to go over the heads of everyone, and I’m trying to correct that. (Note: this is not meant to sound pretentious as it is to remember that epistemically we are all at different places, so we must communicate in a way that brings much of an audience along in the reasoning and verbalization. In other words, I’m still learning how to bring people along in a journey.)

Resolutions (Part 2 of 5)

It has been a while since I wrote another piece on my New Year’s Resolutions. Previously I mentioned:

  1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my life. Additionally, I resolve to do whatever I think to be my duty, most for the good and advantage of my neighbor in general.
  2. Resolved, I begin and end my day by writing 500 words.

So, just an update on the resolutions, I believe I am accomplishing the second resolution very well. The very first resolution, however, is not one that I think is totally determinable by myself alone. It is a hope and goal for every day. I more than likely have failed, but I will continue to try and do it. All because I really do believe this is what it means to live out faith in Christ.

With that being said, let’s get this show on the road and continue with the next two resolutions.

Resolution #3:

Resolved, I will live out my days by making them the most profitable as they can be, living with all my might, and spending my time at the improvement of myself and the goals of my vocation.

I want to take a moment to explain this one because it is pretty much focused on the self. Now, we all know resolutions are very focused on self-improvement, etc. However, if you will remember, these aims are not centered around 2017 alone. Instead, these aspirations are things I will pursue over the next, God willing, 60 years of my life. So, they cannot be nearsighted, even though the list may grow. So, you cannot really think of these as temporary, think of it when Ross laminated his top 5. These things are getting laminated people!

Anyway, let’s return to the resolution. Profit is what many of us would think as the bottom line. Yet, this does not have to be the idea of profit as monetary, and I do not mean to look at it in a strict productive manner either like you would think of tasks getting done. I mean for the word to be understood as benefit or advantage. So I want to live out my days by making them the most beneficial or advantageous. You could see this as Robert Williams famous scene in Dead Poets Society near the trophy case. The latin phrase is Carpe Diem. Williams states, “Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…”

Some might say, it sounds like you are in a hurry. Some could even think that I have angst towards the finitude of my life, even though I fully believe in the next. Good point, so why focus on having my days be “profitable”? We all die —a sad, inevitable truth. I am not invincible, nor am I concerned with my life in the sense of making the greatest impact or changing the world. Nonetheless, I do want to make an impact. But, an extraordinary life, in my mind, is one lived to the fullest in the small moments. Thus, I will use my God-given abilities, mind, strength, and heart to its fullest as long as God continues to allow this finite creature called Phil to live. This leads into the next phrase. What is life!? How do you explain it? I suppose I should leave that for another time —the story of a single life is deeply complex and always an ongoing marching toward death? (Oof, I realize I’m probably reading to much Heidegger.)

Moving on, some might say life is apex moments as well as the nadir moments, think of a Bell and Well curve. Many probably see life in this manner because those curves become turning points and sign posts we return to as we reflect on life. Ordinarily, you hear people say it like this, “This chapter of my life is closing,” if they are turning from a low point. Or, if they are in a great place, “Life is just really good, everything is going perfectly.” Yet, for some reason, we only live in those two moments, the high and low points. However, I conceive of life in those in between moments. That is the meat of existence. So, as great as those moments are, I look forward to the climb and the descent because it is in those places where I’m truly being formed to be the person God has called me to be and the kind of follower of Christ I hope to be. Therefore, I find life to be full of small moments and steps in which I am invited to live to the best of my ability —to be responsive in this life God has given me. Furthermore, I want to be the best at what I do so I will do all I can to pursue my vocation(s).

Resolution #4:

Resolved, to know and love the nieghbor, who ultimately belongs to God and is God’s creature.

If this sounds odd to you, then you got my intention. I want the sentence to cause me to pause and consider what I am resolving to do for the rest of my life. For some reason, this resolution frightens me. I don’t think that is a bad thing, but I realize that I’m going to fail at this. Moreover, I hear the penned lines of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring rumbling through my head.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

With this resolution, I have no real control over what I am opening myself up to because of a commitment to follow Christ. You may know that I struggle with humanity. You may have heard me say, “I really want to be a hermit — write books and essays, read, think, and pray. Live with my dog, Loki, and be in solitude.” I want this not so much because I hate people, but I get at times easily frustrated by society and everything that entails living in relationship with multiple human beings.

In spite of this, I acknowledge that all you über extroverts and deeply relationally oriented people are freaking out over what I have said. But, let me explain why I have this resolution. If I ask you to tell me the Great Commandment, rightly you say, “Love God and love neighbor as yourself.” However, these are two commandments, not one. The two commandments are the sum of the Law. Yet, nowhere does this say it is a single commandment. I’m not going to get any deeper than that, but I could. The point is that fulfilling God’s Law is twofold. First is to God and trying to fulfill that is hard enough because I am to love God with all my heart, soul (or being), and strength. I’m still stuck on trying to do what it means to love God, so how do you expect me to love my neighbor as myself. So, if you ask a question that I don’t want to answer, I’ll say: “I’m still trying to figure out this whole loving God and loving neighbor thing.” Nevertheless, I, as a believer, am called to do these two commands. Hence, my desire for becoming a hermit collapse in on itself because of this call of God in Jesus Christ to follow Him. I am called to love God and love neighbor. This sucks because I want to just focus on loving God.

So, I now have four of my ten initial resolutions. It’s taken me some time to even get this far, yet I hope to keep posting my resolutions. To let everyone know, I create possible resolutions, and then I analyze if they are even worth keeping or blogging about.

Do We Understand Friendship?’

“I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

 

 

“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”

 

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question “Do you see the same truth?” would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise – though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.”

 

“Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” 

 

“But in Friendship, being free of all that, we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing.”

 

All these quotes are from the section on Friendship in C.S. Lewis’ book called, The Four Loves. It is a superb book, one of his lesser widely read. Lewis did such a great job, and I kept trying to write something but to no avail. So, the quotes should help getting you to think about what it means to be a friend, have friends, and finding a friend. The last quote is the best, because he connects it to Jesus. BOOM!

Forgiveness

 C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors, wrote a copious amount of essays on the Christian life. One, I think, needs to be read by any believer every so often. It is on forgiveness. You see, I don’t “do” forgiveness well. This probably sounds like a complete “Un-Christian” thing to say, yet I fully mean it. 

But the trouble is that what we call “asking God’s forgiveness” very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some “extenuating circumstances.” We are so very anxious to point these things out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the very important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves without own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.

So, forgiveness is harder for us to ask for and give than we think. We very flippantly, as a natural reaction, proclaim forgiveness over someone without thinking what we offer, or when we receive forgiveness. (I hate this thing) we say, like any good Christian should, “You know, I have forgiven them in my heart already.” Ehhhh, you sure there shooter? It is a cop-out, most of the time, because we the next minute flip out on the hearer about what the person did. The reality of forgiveness is that forgiveness takes account on how much it is being forgiven. Forgiveness is hard, but God counted the cost and forgave us of much more than we know. 

So, here’s the thought, anytime we come before God, let us just bring ourselves dirty and messed up—no excuses and long winded prayers. God knows, and he is not shocked. He has healed us in Jesus Christ, and He will heal us because of His Son, when we bring ourselves before Him. He is faithful.