A (very quick) thought on Amos 6:12

Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow there with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood… – Amos 6:12

Violating God’s law is as damaging as violating the laws of nature. Put like this, judgment follows like a natural action-reaction. When it doesn’t, it is only because of divine intervention. God’s mercy is borderline miraculous.

A thought on Psalm 138:8

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands. – Psalm 138:8

The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me – God’s undoubted sovereignty. Swiftly followed by a declaration of God’s steadfast love, because faith goes hand-in-hand with knowledge of who God is. It’s not in a vacuum and it’s not wishful thinking.

And then, this grand truth-based certainty is followed by a request: do not forget the work of your hands.

God’s sovereignty doesn’t annul prayer.

A thought on 1 Peter 1:13

The context is holy living. It begins with an understanding of God’s work in bringing the gospel to us (the OT prophets prophesied) and of the tremendous value of the gospel (the prophets inquired and the angels long to see). There is an extraordinary privilege to be alive this side of the cross.

v13 is the consequence of this understanding. Knowing the gospel leads to a clarity of mind (sober-minded) which is followed by placing our hope fully on the future promises in Christ. Motivation for holiness is our love for Christ (v8) but here it really hinges on seeing ourselves in the context of God’s redemptive history. We won’t be prepared for lives of loving sanctification if we can’t see where we’ve been (“former ignorance” v14) and where we’re going in Christ.

Futility and Hope

6: bible nerd

This week I had the privilege to address our workplace Christian fellowship. The topic was “Futility and hope: From Ecclesiastes to Romans”. Below are my notes.

Question 1: What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Question 2: What would make you permanently happy right now?

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity – Ecc. 1:2

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. – Ecc. 1:14

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. – Ecc. 2:11

It might come as a shock to us that words like these are found in the Bible, and that might say more about our ideas about the Bible than the Bible itself.

In Ecclesiastes, God speaks to the human condition. Centuries before Christ came, God showed us that He does not shy from stooping down to our level and showing us that He fully comprehends the human experience.

Ecclesiastes is a life experiment: Solomon has everything anyone could ever want: Unsurpassed wealth, divine wisdom, the peak of power, creativity, ingenuity, knowledge, and the ability to enjoy every pleasure and emotion a person could possibly experience. Everything with which most people would answer Question 2 above.v Solomon’s  “methodology” is unrestricted. And yet, he consigns all of his “data” to futility.

The Hebrew word for vanity/futility is hebel, which literally means vapour. It communicates the idea of something fleeting and ephemeral; something that doesn’t last:

Ecc. 2:16: 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!

We all long for meaning in our lives. We are the only beings in the world who do so. Whether we admit it or not, we are all touched by this need and we actually pursuit it, sometimes without even realising it:

Ecc. 3:10-11: I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Our search for meaning is really a search for permanence, for something enduring; something eternal.

Ecc. 7:29: Pivotal point. The cause of this futility is sin.

Ecc.12:13: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Solomon’s conclusion is that, in light of the incomprehensible reality of human existence and the unsatisfied need for meaning, the only thing we can do is to resign ourselves to God’s inscrutable sovereignty. Obeying God’s commandments is all we can do, because it is the only answer to our quest for meaning. It’s not that by obeying God we will magically find answers to all our questions (Job learned this the hard way), but rather, in light of the apparent futility of life, we can find comfort in God, who is in control of everything.

The frightening falleness of the world should make us eagerly groan for the new one.

Outside of God, living life for life has a net value of zero.

Romans 8:18-24: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?

The word for futility (ματαιότης) is the same word used in the Greek translation of hebel (LXX Ecclesiastes).

Paul echoes the concept of vanity/futility in life and doesn’t deny it – he tells us that God Himself has subjected the creation to futility.

But he is clearer: Solomon’s “conclusion of the whole matter” is the “hope in which we were saved” (Rom. 8:24). It is the hope of the gospel, the eager groaning for a new world where God will give eternal, permanent meaning to everything we do and experience. Death will not haunt us anymore.

In Christ, God began the recreation of the world (2 Cor. 5:17) that will culminate in the Second Coming. Those who are in Christ are recreated beings (new creations), moving gradually away from the fallen futility of this world back to the original intention of Creation: An existence that is completely centred on God.

This is why the Scripture calls us to an all-pervasive, all-consuming, all-or-nothing, loving relationship with God through Christ (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:15).

Or why we’re told that, 1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:17, the world is passing away.

Why we’re described as having no abiding city here (Heb. 13:14).

Why we’re told to set our minds “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2)

If we are new beings in Christ, then what is the hope of our life? What “gets us out of bed in the morning”? Where do we seek our meaning? Our joy?

The Psalmist writes things like “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:25). Is that the reality of our Christian life? Do we find meaning, joy, satisfaction and contentment in God through Christ?

How does this tie up with God’s pruning work in us (John 15:1-2)? When we read passages like Rom. 8:28-29, do we understand that everything that happens to us fits into His bigger plan of recreation?

Out of bed

Adam working in the field. Series History of t...

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What gets us out of bed in the morning? What keeps us going?

Humans have a remarkable ability to ignore the greatest issues in life. We go through life pretending that we are seeking truth and depth and meaning, but we don’t. If we were, we’d be tearing ourselves to pieces looking for God, or taking turns blowing our brains out. Ecclesiastes tells us that all of human existence is futile/pointless/meaningless/hebel. In Romans 8:18-24, Paul gives us the answer: God subjected this world to futility because of Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:17) and it is God who will redeem/restore/recreate it by subjecting it to the “last Adam”, Christ.