Watching the wind
Ecclesiastes 11: Don’t sit there watching the wind, Do your own work.
The wise man of Ecclesiastes says that when the clouds are so full of water that they can’t hold it anymore that it rains. When the wind is strong enough to blow down a tree, well, down it comes. In other words, things happen when they’re ready to happen. Sitting around waiting on them is a waste of time; time that could be spent doing something worthwhile. We spend a lot of time dreaming about things happening that will only happen when the time is right. Meanwhile, there’s living to do. The farmer might hope for rain, but he isn’t to sit out in the field watching the sky, instead he gets on with the work he can do right now. There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to some future blessing and even taking a quick look to the horizon to see if it’s in sight yet. However, our lives aren’t to come to a stop while we wait. The issue isn’t “what’s God going to do?” Rather it’s, “what’s God doing right now and how can I work with him in doing it?” Staring at the clouds is a waste of time; we need to “get on with…life.”
Take Away: Don’t live your life waiting for something to happen – instead, connect with what’s happening right now.
Ecclesiastes 6: We work to feed our appetites; meanwhile our souls go hungry.
I read somewhere that the average American works 46 hours a week, with a significant number of people working over 50 hours a week. I probably don’t have to convince anyone that life is getting more, and not less, complicated. We Americans even work hard at playing. School sports are demanding enough but many children are involved in leagues beyond school. It’s a rare thing for most families to just be “doing nothing.” And what does this all get us? Frankly, I don’t have the feeling that people are happier and more satisfied in their lives. To me, this lifestyle has a lot in common with running on a treadmill: lots of activity that isn’t really taking us anywhere. Could it be that all of our busy-ness is an attempt to fill emptiness in our souls? There has to be more to life than work and weekends. There has to be a greater purpose than buying a bigger house or seeing that our kids get sports scholarships to good schools. Jesus said it this way: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) This passage reminds us to check our priorities with this in mind.
Take Away: All the activities in the world won’t do for us what a genuine relationship with the Lord will do.
1 Samuel 15: Then God spoke to Samuel: “I’m sorry I ever made Saul king. He’s turned his back on me. He refuses to do what I tell him.”
God has given Saul explicit orders. He’s to attack Amalek and utterly destroy all life. Saul leads his army into the battle and follows God’s command. Well, not quite. Agag, king of Amalek, is captured rather than killed. Also, some of the choice animals are brought back alive. Now, I’m troubled by all this killing and I’ve written about it before so I’m going to move on to another important feature of this passage. God says he’s “sorry” he made Saul king in the first place. Some say that this is just God speaking in human terms, that he isn’t “sorry” in the sense that he regrets having made Saul king. The reason that they believe this is because taking this statement at face value doesn’t fit their theology. They see time as somehow pre-existent and that God can see into the future. “God knows everything,” they say, “so he has to know the future.” I think that such logic contains a fatal error: that the future already exists as something to be known. If time is a “thing” then, no doubt, God knows all about it. But if time is simply a measure of the flow of events, and if human beings really have free will, then God don’t know the future. Before you drag me out to be stoned, let me add two things. First, God knows what he’s going to do. Throughout the Bible he says, “If you do this, I will do that — if you do that I will do this.” God knows, because he’s going to act, not because he’s looked into the future and seen what he’s going to do but, instead, because he’s God Almighty and if says he’s going to do something that thing is absolutely certain to happen. Second, God could know the exact future if he wanted to. I am not saying that he somehow “limits his vision.” Rather, that if God wanted to force events to flow in a specific way he has the power to do so. However, doing that in the lives of individuals would violate the free will he granted human beings. If you’re still with me, let me conclude by adding that God had every reason to believe Saul would be a terrific leader of Israel and to be disappointed when he isn’t. In fact, that’s what God believed would (or at least “could”) happen. Saul’s failure disappointed the Almighty but it didn’t ruin his plan. The Lord goes about replacing Saul with another king, giving Israel a second chance.
Take Away: The Lord may not pre-ordain what I’m going to do, but he can handle whatever I do.
Isaiah 41: Who did this? … I did. God. I’m first on the scene. I’m also the last to leave.
At the conclusion of the movie “The Langoliers” the adventurers travel “back to the future” and find themselves just a few minutes ahead of the present. They stand along the wall, out of the way, and wait for time to catch up to them. When the “present” arrives, they’re already in place, waiting for it. Now, I’m not ready to build a “Langoliers theology” and I’m not ready (or qualified) to come up with some “God in time” observation. However, Isaiah’s statement about God’s presence brings that scene to mind. I arrive at some moment in my life and suddenly find myself dealing with something for which I’m totally unprepared. In spite of that, Isaiah reminds me that there’s one who is there before me, not surprised at all and ready to help me work my way through this unexpected circumstance. No matter what happens I need to remember that God got there first and can handle things just fine.
Take Away: It doesn’t take much for me to be in over my head so I’d best trust in the Lord in such situations.
Only God can speak of the future with certainty
Isaiah 14: Exactly as I planned, it will happen.
The topic is still the downfall of mighty Babylon. The very subject likely sounds like so much wishful thinking to many. After all, Isaiah is talking about an unstoppable world power that dominates the entire region. Any suggestion that Babylon will come crashing down must be an excursion into fiction. Still, that’s Isaiah’s message. Even though no power on earth can challenge this mighty army, a Power above earth has it in His sights. Now, some have used this passage as a proof that God has either fully mapped out the future or somehow travels through time or even exists in all of time at once. I accept the possibility of the first, but can’t see the “time travel” versions. For one thing, everything we know about God is what he’s told us or shown us about himself. We might read something in the Bible and conclude that God did it, or knew it, because he “looked ahead in time.” However, to do that is to come to our own conclusions, and not because we’ve been given a Biblical insight about God. Well, so much for the “time travel.” The first suggestion is that God mapped it all out. As I said, I believe that’s possible. That is, I believe the Almighty has the power and authority to do just that. The problem for me isn’t in that arena at all. Instead, it’s that such a view destroys the possibility of free will. In other words, God could map everything out, but he can’t plan it all and still grant free will to human beings. That leaves me with a view of God that concludes he “could” have designed a universe in which he could travel through time, but we have no evidence that he did and that he could have written the entirety of Creation out on day one, but he couldn’t have done that and given human beings anything greater than the illusion of free will. So what do I do with a passage in which God says things will happen as he planned? I’ll simply accept it. Babylon has displeased the Almighty who says, “Because you have acted as you have, I’ve decided just how I’m going to do away with you.” Things will happen to Babylon as God has said because God is going to bring it to pass. It’s not because he’s already seen it, looking into the future or because he intended, from the beginning, for Babylon to fail as it will. Rather, it’s God, in Sovereign authority, declaring what he is going to bring to pass.
Take Away: It’s fun to think about the nature of time and the foreknowledge of God, but we’d better not get too theologically invested in our musing.