Steve’s Letter – May 2013
MAY 1, 2013
I’m writing this during Easter week and just finished (as a part of my daily Bible readings) the book of Ecclesiastes. Frankly, with thoughts of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter and Ecclesiastes, there is a disconnect.
If you read Ecclesiastes for your devotional time, make it in the morning. If you read it just before going to bed, you won’t sleep very well. In Ecclesiastes, there are texts like…
“I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity [futility] and a striving after wind…” (1:13-14).
“I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity [futility] and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun…” (2:11).
“What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity [futility]…” (2:22-23).
“For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity [futility] and a striving after wind…” (2:16-17).
That’s in the Bible?
Yeah. And you should read it to some of your pagan friends who think the Bible is an unrealistic book, and tell them to put that in their pipe and smoke it.
So I’m trying to process Ecclesiastes and Easter. To make it worse, I’m also reading about the relationship between Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar, both Swiss theologians (one Reformed and the other Roman Catholic). They had great respect for each other and were close friends. Both are seen as among the leading theological minds (maybe the leading theological minds) of the 20th century.
(If you’re asked about those guys in a contest and win any money, send it to Key Life. And if you bring them up in casual conversation and people think you’re really smart, you owe me. You don’t have to add that their works are useful in a number of ways…including the fact that you can stand on them in a flood and remain dry.)
What does this have to do with what I’m saying? Just stay with me and I’ll get there.
Not just truth: but the Truth.
Both Barth and Balthasar were very adversarial and angry about modern culture and the efforts on the part of some Christian scholars to “reconcile” Christianity and the world. They both taught that Jesus Christ was revelation from “outside” and he spoke to the world not just truth; but was, in fact, the Truth.
Barth wrote: “We must always be putting the question, ‘What is the evidence?’ Not the evidence of my thoughts, or my heart, but the evidence of the apostles and prophets, as the evidence of God’s self-evidence.” Barth pointed to Christ as the center of God’s definition of himself. Balthasar wrote something similar to Barth: “Jesus Christ is not a ‘principle’ or a ‘program’ but a man of flesh and blood….Jesus does not merely announce a true doctrine….In his very existence he is Truth revealed by God…not mere materially expressed symbols of God’s attitude toward the world; they are his very attitude…no mere feeling but purpose, action and commitment.”
In other words, they wrote that the world (as bad as it is…and it is) is always defined by Jesus and the place where it is defined is in the fact that God came into a dark world, loved us enough to sacrifice himself for us, and then got out of the grave so we could too.
When I started writing this, I was kind of down from reading Ecclesiastes, but I’m better. Do you know why? Because of a light in the darkness: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:5,16).
Don’t ever kid yourself about the darkness. Ecclesiastes is in the Bible because God wanted us to remember the pain, the temptations, the failure and the darkness. There is nothing worse than a “Disney World” Christian who “tiptoes through the tulips with Jesus.” Life is hard…and sometimes it gets really hard. It’s certainly not for sissies. But when it gets dark enough, you can see the light. In fact, it’s only in the dark that the light makes any difference.
Then, of course, it isn’t all dark. After reading Ecclesiastes, I found myself thinking that the “preacher” who wrote it needed to be a bit less wise and dark, and to go and get a milkshake. But then, he didn’t know about Jesus. When I go to our Easter service this year, I’ll remember the dark and so many people I care about who are facing it. I’ll agree with the writer of Ecclesiastes. But I’ll also sing the hymns, smell the Easter lilies and remember Jesus.
Don’t ignore the tears. They are real. But don’t forget about the laughter either. You’re loved without condition. You’re forgiven and that includes it all. You’ve been promised Home forever. The dead Messiah got out of his grave and said we would too.
A friend of mine sent me the story about a lady who worked for an orthopedic surgeon moving into a new office. His staff helped transport many of the items from the old office to the new one. The staff member, among other things, was charged with transporting the display skeleton. She placed the skeleton in the front passenger seat of her car with his bony arm across the back of the seat.
As she drove across town, she stopped at a light, looked to her left, and noticed that the man in the car next to her had a shocked expression on his face. By way of explanation, she yelled out the window, “I’m delivering him to my doctor’s office.”
“Lady,” he said, “I think it’s way too late.”
Okay. It was too late for that patient.
But it isn’t for us. God puts the bones back together, then the flesh, and then those restored skeletons dance. Don’t forget “dem” bones (Ezekiel 37)!
He told me to remind you.
In His Grip,