The following three nuggets of wisdom come from Ecclesiastes and are especially appropriate for those of us who engage and struggle with our troubled culture. They can help us to keep things in perspective.
Do not in spirit become quickly discontented, for discontent lodges in the bosom of a fool (Eccl 7:9).
We certainly do live in times that challenge our sense of well-being. There is much to lament in these times: broken families, confused sexuality, secularism, and growing hostility to the teachings of our holy faith.
And yet we must not yield to the temptation to become too sour. As the proverb says, we ought not to become too “quickly discontented.”
At the center of every Christian heart should be a deep and abiding gratitude to God for his many—indeed countless—gifts. Every life, every family, every community, every culture, and every nation experiences a mixture of many beautiful blessings along with struggles and hardships.
The proverb here warns us against “discontent,” a word that is derived from the Latin continere, meaning to contain or hold. Thus to be discontented is to refuse to hold within us the joy and gratitude that we ought to have for so many rich blessings, even in the midst of difficulties.
Every day, trillions of things go right and only a handful go wrong. It is no exaggeration to speak of “trillions” of things going right when we consider that every aspect of every cell within our body, every molecule that makes up every cell, and every atom that makes up every molecule are all functioning by the grace of God.
And beyond our bodies is a vast ecosystem with myriad complex interactions such as photosynthesis enabling plants to produce oxygen for us to breathe, the Gulf Stream moderating our temperature, the Van Allen belts protecting us from the harmful radiation of the sun, Jupiter and Saturn out there catching comets, and the Earth carefully maintaining its nearly circular orbit thus keeping the temperature change between the seasons relatively small. Our sun remains stable, unlike many other stars, and we live in a relatively quiet section of the Milky Way galaxy, largely free from the space debris that flies about in most other areas.
And troubled though America is, people are still (literally) dying to get here. Our roads are paved and we have a reliable electrical grid, a stable government, and a good market system.
We ought to be filled with immense gratitude as well as wonder and awe at the countless blessings that God bestows on us from moment to moment.
To become quickly discontented, or worse, to allow discontent to lodge in our hearts, is deeply foolish. First of all, it is foolish because it is so myopic. Refusing to see or to reflect frequently on our manifold blessings is a kind of self-imposed blindness.
Consider a rich man who thinks himself poor. Only a fool would close his eyes and refuse to see the millions he actually has in the bank. Why live as a poor man, always running from creditors? A man with such resources who believes he is poor must be blind, a fool, or both.
And this is true for us, who have so many blessings. How easily we become discontented and negative!
Thus, even though there are things about which we must be very sober, there are many others about which we must be exuberantly joyful. If we don’t maintain this balance we are, as the proverb says, foolish.
Do not say: How is it that former times were better than these? For it is not in wisdom that you ask about this (Eccl 7:10).
This is an important caution for those of us who lament the current times and compare them unfavorably to the past. We tend to look back at previous decades and see them as more idyllic than they actually were. All ages have struggles particular to them, but they have blessings too. Some look to the 1950s with nostalgic affection but they forget the nuclear arms race, the Korean War, and the Cold War. The 1940s had the Second World War. The 1930s had the Great Depression. The 1920s were a time of rather widespread immorality and a great deal of organized crime. The 1910s had the First World War. The decade of the 1900s was a time of great economic recession; waves of immigrants were often made to live and work in horrifying conditions. One could continue pointing out the problems in every decade going backward in time. But each of these decades also had its blessings.
Regardless of how the struggles and strengths of the present day compare to those of the past, we are living now. Accept your assignment with humility and seek to influence positively the many difficulties we currently face. And do not fail to be grateful for the many blessings we have today: advanced medicine, high technology, and numerous creature comforts that make life a little more pleasant.
Be actively grateful and gratefully active.
Finally, then, comes the following counsel from Ecclesiastes, which is particularly appropriate during Lent as we ponder the essential goal of our life:
The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad (Eccl 12:13).
Yes, look to your own impending judgment. Have a healthy fear of God and a sober appreciation of the fact that judgment awaits us all. Prepare for your own judgment and help others to prepare for theirs, insofar as it is your duty to remind and prepare them.
If you have suffered injustice or if you grow weary of these sinful times, remember that God sees all. Others will answer to God for what they have done if they have not repented. Pray that they do repent, for nothing will be unrequited and every idle word will have to be accounted for (see Mat 12:36).
Do not delay your own repentance, either. Tomorrow is not promised, but judgment is.
Jesus our Judge says, For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen (Luke 8:17-18).
Jesus gets the last word!
This video is an allegory of a woman who rejects the offer of truth and order. Truth offers his friendship to her. After being rejected, he warns her, admonishes her, and offers it to her again. But the woman’s rejection of truth persists and great is her ruin.