Ecclesiastes, chapter 3-- we're making our way through it.
July 20, 1969, a very important date in human history as well as American history-- I was 14 years of age going on 15 at the time. That isn't what made the day important. On that day, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. The spacecraft was called the Eagle. And they landed on portion of the lunar surface known as the Sea of Tranquility at approximately 4:17 PM. They landed. And they wired back, spoke back, to Houston. Houston, Tranquility Base here-- the Eagle has landed.
Well, the several hours of preparation before the hatch was opened-- at 10:56 PM, Neil Armstrong opened the hatch and set foot on the moon and gave that statement we still remember. Do you remember what he said? That's one small step for man-- (IMITATING RADIO) one giant step for mankind. That's how we heard it, anyway, over the radio.
And they walked around for about two hours on the surface of the moon, first time ever, an epic time in history. And the view of the earth from the moon was spectacular, they said. But the view of the earth from the earth isn't always that spectacular, especially in the midst of traffic and pollution and work and responsibility. In fact, I don't know if you know this. Buzz Aldrin later on suffered an emotional breakdown because of disillusionment. And those who treated him said that after attaining so much, his goal in life to be on the moon, everything else in life seemed so ordinary. His view changed, his view from up there versus his view from down here.
Now, I've given you that story as sort of an opener to set up what we're going to read today. Solomon is sort of like a spiritual astronaut in that he lives in the horizontal, on Earth. But periodically, he is jettisoned upward to get a view of the truth, so spectacular. And he shares it with us. And we're going to read here in this section how he sees both a view from a spiritual point of view as well as from a skeptical point of view.
A couple of weeks ago, I took my son snowboarding. In fact, it was the day after Thanksgiving. We went north to Santa Fe. And all the way up from here to Santa Fe was socked in with fog. The view-- you couldn't see anything. You could barely see past the car. And it continued that way all the way from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. And we thought, this is not a good sign. You don't want to snowboard in this kind of stuff.
But then suddenly, as we kept climbing, we reached a point where we poked out through the fog and could see everything clearly and then got to the top of the mountain, of course. And you look back over the valley. And the view is great. It's gorgeous.
In the paragraph we're about to read, beginning in verse 12-- actually, it's a couple of paragraphs-- Solomon gets a skeptical as well as a spiritual viewpoint. It sounds like there's two different people. But it's the same person. Let's go back to verse 12. And we'll read down to the rest of the chapter.
"I know that nothing is better for them"-- that is, for mankind-- "than to rejoice, to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat, drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor. It is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it. Nothing can be taken from it. God does it-- that men should fear before Him. That which is has already been. That which is to be has already been. And God requires an account of what is past.
Moreover, I saw under the sun in the place of judgment, wickedness was there. In the place of righteousness, iniquity was there. I said in my heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every purpose and for every word.
I said in my heart, concerning the condition of the sons of men, God test them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals, for what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals. One thing befalls them. As one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath. Man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust. And all return to dust.
Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animals, which goes down to the earth? So I perceive that nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own words, for that is his heritage, for who can bring him to see what will happen after him?"
You get some insight into those verses of a wrestling match, a struggle going on, inside of Solomon-- same guy thinking on two different struggling viewpoints. If you look at a couple of phrases, you see the struggle pretty readily. Verse 12 he begins by saying, "I know." Then in verse 14, "I know." In both of those verses, God is mentioned. It's sort of continuing the thought from verse 9, 10, and 11, which we covered last week. And he says, "I know, I know." There's a confidence in his speech. As he considers God, as he considers spiritual truth, I know these things.
But then in verse 16, "I saw"-- this is his observation. Verse 17-- "I said in my heart." That's his internal wranglings. Verse 18-- again, his thoughts-- "I said in my heart." Verse 22-- "so I perceived."
In these paragraphs are two different ways of seeing things, of perceiving things, a skeptical way as well as a spiritual way. It may seem odd. But the same person is capable of seeing both ways when confused. I bet you've had that happen. I bet he said, I know this is true. But I look over here, and it just didn't seem that it's not true. On this hand-- but then on the other hand, we go back and forth.
Now, some of you live on what I call Mount Skeptical. Everything is seen cynically, skeptically. Some of you live on Mount Spiritual. For the most part, you have a walk with God, a spiritual world view. But from time to time, you struggle with the other. You're pulled by the cynical, the pessimistic, the skeptical. This passage is for both groups. This, I hope, will help you see more as you see into the mind of Solomon and the heart of God in this passage.
Years ago, many years ago, 1400s to be exact, there was a coin that was minted by Spain. On the back of the coin-- had a inscription of the Rock of Gibraltar, principally two of the pillars of that rock that jettisoned out into the sea-- and was the inscription above it that read "ne plus ultra," which meant, no more beyond, no more beyond this. This is it. The Rock of Gibraltar-- this is as far as you go, man. You'll fall off the end of the earth you go any further, until one brave pioneer, to be followed by others, ventured out to discover new worlds. And then very wisely, Spain decided to change the wording on the coin. They struck the "ne" from the sentence. So it said "plus ultra," there is more beyond this.
You may have a skeptical viewpoint. There is more beyond this. You may have, for the most part, a spiritual viewpoint, but then are pulled by the skeptical. And you're driven back. There is more beyond this.
Let's begin not with the spiritual, but with the skeptical. I'm going to take you down to verse 16 because I want to end with the spiritual. I figure it's a better way to end a message than just saying life's a bummer, isn't it? God bless you. So we're going to start with the view from Mount Skeptical.
And in verse 16, we see the first of three peaks on that mountain. It's the humanistic peak, the humanistic view of life, verse 16. "Moreover, I saw under the sun in the place of judgment, wickedness was there. In the place of righteousness, iniquity was there."
He's noticing a substitution. Where one thing ought to be, the other thing is. Then he picks up that thought again in chapter 4. "I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun." And look, the tears of the oppressed-- they have no comforter. On the side of the oppressors, there is power. But they-- that is, the oppressed-- they have no comforter. Therefore, I praise the dead, who are already dead more than the living who are still alive.
This is the humanistic view that says, life is unfair. Where equity ought to be, unrighteousness is. He mentions judgment back in verse 16, the Hebrew word mishpat, which literally means "the exercise of judicial fairness." He's referring to the courts of law. In the courts of law, where there ought to be the exercise of judicial fairness, there is wickedness. The Hebrew resha-- it means a bending, a perversion of what is right.
Probably, he saw that judges were bribed, officials were corrupt. In the very place where injustice ought to be corrected, it wasn't corrected. There was unrighteousness in the land. That's the humanistic viewpoint. It looks around at life and says, life is so unfair.
Listen to this. It's a news article from the Chicago Tribune. It reads, "Car Crash Blights Girl's Life and Nobody Pays." Those are the headlines, front page. "Car Crash Blights Girl's Life, Nobody Pays." Here's the article in a nutshell-- a car accident involving a family that was innocent. And somebody else who was guilty rendered the girl in the family car paralyzed for life. Everybody in the courtroom knew that it was that other guy's fault. But the case was dismissed on a legal technicality. So he never paid. He should have. It wasn't fair that it was dismissed. But it was a technicality.
And people look around at life. And they notice the inequity. Why is it that the guy going five miles over the speed limit gets the ticket? The guy across the street, who at the same time is robbing the jewelry store, goes unnoticed. Why?
You've all heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Let me give you a modern rendition. Once upon a time in a far away country lived a little girl called Red Riding Hood. One day, her mother asked her to take a basket of fruit to grandma's house, who'd been ill. And she lived alone in a cottage. A wolf lurking in the bushes overheard the conversation, decided to take a shortcut to grandmother's house and get the goodies for himself.
The wolf killed grandma, dressed in her nightgown, and jumped into bed to await the girl. When she arrived, he tried to grab her. But the child ran screaming from the cottage. A woodcutter working nearby heard the cries and rushed to the rescue. He killed the wolf with his ax, thereby saving Red Riding Hood's life. All the townspeople hurried to the scene and proclaimed the woodcutter a hero.
But at the inquest, several facts emerged. The wolf had never been advised of his rights. The woodcutter made no warning swings before striking the fatal blow. The Civil Liberties Union stressed the point that although the act of eating grandma may have been in bad taste, no pun intended, the wolf was only doing his thing, and thus didn't deserve the death penalty. On these bases, it was decided there was no valid charges against the wolf. Moreover, the woodcutter was indicted for unaggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Several nights later, the woodcutter's cottage was burned to the ground. And a year afterwards, grandma's cottage was made a shrine for the wolf who had bled and died there. Evil is rewarded. And good is punished. And when people look at that from this mountain peak called Mount Skeptical, this humanistic viewpoint that says life is not fair, they then wonder about an all-powerful God.
If you've ever had a conversation with a skeptic, one of the major problems of the skeptic is the problem of evil. And the argument is framed like this-- if God is all-powerful, then he could destroy evil. And if God is all-good, then He would destroy evil. But evil is not destroyed. Therefore, says the skeptic, there is no God.
I want to address that in a little while. But let's look at this viewpoint. This is the humanistic viewpoint. Go down to verse 18. We did get another one. I call it the mechanistic viewpoint that says life is just temporary. This is all there is in life.
"I said in my heart concerning the condition of the sons of men, God test them"-- so he brings God into it, but notice he descends quickly-- "that they may see that they themselves are like animals, for what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals. One thing befalls them. As one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath. Man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity."
This is the mechanistic viewpoint. That is, man is simply a mechanism, like an animal, a highly developed animal. Solomon must have looked around and noticed there are similarities. We all breathe the same breath. There are similar biochemical changes upon death. We are composed of chemicals that come from the earth. When we die, we go back to the earth, as does an animal. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes is not only true for a human being, but also for those in the animal world. This is life from the mechanistic viewpoint-- man, a highly developed animal-- no difference.
Upon this viewpoint, the ideology of evolution has come forth that says, all of life, all of life, gradually emerged over long periods of time from a single cell, although the fossil record doesn't bear that out. In fact, study paleontology, and you will see that higher life forms-- complex invertebrates, mammals, birds, amphibians, et cetera, primates-- appear abruptly in the fossil record, not gradually over time.
But the evolutionist says no, no, no, no. Gradually, over time, things changed. And we are who we are today. I love what one person with just plain common sense, no scientific background, just common sense said. He said, if evolution really works, then why is it that mothers still have only two hands?
With all that they do, you'd think they'd have 20 by now or something.
Upon this outlook of life, the mechanistic viewpoint, Hinduism is also built, that says animals and people are the same. In fact, in some cases, animals, some of them, are higher than human beings. When I was in India I read of a true story of a moral dilemma, as Dr. Laura likes to call it, a moral dilemma that a bus driver was having.
He's driving down the road, bus load full of people. You have to know India to know that the streets are filled with traffic going any way you want to go-- camels, cows, oxen, chickens, people, bicycles. And he didn't have enough time to make the appropriate stopping decision. He saw a cow coming in the road and a man on the side of the road. He had to decide which way to go. And he decided to run into the man and kill him-- is what happened-- to save the holy cow because the cow's life was much more valuable than the man's.
It is also upon the mechanistic viewpoint that men and animals are alike, that animal rights group shout their mantras, animals have souls, too. They're just like we are. They have rights as well. It's based upon this viewpoint.
The mechanistic view of evolving life is based upon the concept of spontaneous biogenesis, spontaneous generation, that sometime, somewhere, amino acids were somehow formed in history past. And out of the amino acids came proteins, the building blocks of life. And voila, here you are.
But the astronomer Sir Frederick Hoyle in response to that said the probability of spontaneous generation happening from a single bacterium "is about the same as the probability that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard could assemble a 747 from the contents therein." Now, there's a good perspective for the laymen and women like us.
Third peak on Mount Skeptical is the pessimistic view. Look at verse 21. This says, well, we just don't know. Life is uncertain. He begins, "Who knows? Who knows the spirit of the sons of men which go upward and the spirit of the animal, which go down to the earth?" A better rendition, a clearer rendition was, who knows which goes up and which goes down? How do you know that the human spirit goes in the presence of God and the animal just goes to the earth? How do you know that?
He continues, "So I perceive nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own works. That's his heritage, for who can bring him to see what will happen after him?" Here's what he's saying. After death, how do you know the difference between men and animals? You just don't know. You can't know. It's the pessimistic view that says life is uncertain.
By the way, this is one of the favorite Bible verses of the skeptic. It's funny. You think, well, they wouldn't have a life verse. Well, this is one of them. In fact, you may not know this. I don't know if I shared with you. But the book of Ecclesiastes is more often quoted by atheists, agnostics, and skeptics than any other book of the Bible for obvious reasons, philosophies such as this.
And here's their argument. They say, oh, you Christians really believe the Bible's inspired? You think it's inerrant? Well, what about this verse that says you don't know? You talk about knowing about eternal life and knowing about life after death. It says in the Bible you don't know. Is there a contradiction? Is the Bible inspired?
Yes, the Bible's inspired. Yes, this verse is inerrant and inspired. But let me tell you about inerrancy and inspiration. It doesn't mean that every verse and statement in the Bible is a true statement. Otherwise, you've got a problem with the statements of the devil. The devil said a lot of things that are recorded in the scripture. It's accurately recorded. It is inerrant in its record. But the statement itself is not a true statement. You don't want to make the devil's words your life verse.
There are statements of unbelievers that are recorded in the Bible, statements of Judas recorded in the Bible, sentiments of unbelievers recorded in the Bible-- doesn't mean they are accurate statements. They're accurately recorded. That's what they said. But it doesn't mean they're true.
What you have here is Solomon struggling, questioning the basic tenants of his background, his religious background, what he was brought up with. And here he's saying, I think that this life is it. This is all you're going to get. At least, this is how he thinks during this period, as he struggles back and forth. But this is the agnostic viewpoint. By the way, agnostic, agnosco in Greek, without knowledge-- I just don't know about God. I just don't know about life after death.
I've found that there are professed believers who are essentially agnostic, no confidence built into their lives. You see it. They're not really certain about this Heaven, Hell, life, death, spiritual God, Heaven. They-- eh, I guess it's good. But I don't know.
And if you don't know, if you're not certain about eternal issues, you're never going to witness to anybody, and they don't. If you're not certain about eternal issues, you're never going to be telling people, hey, you got to get your life right because you're going to face God one day. They don't. If you're not certain about eternal issues, you don't tell people, there's a real Heaven and there's a real Hell. They don't. They don't do it.
But life is so obviously designed by a designer, God, you can be certain. You can know someone designed this. Listen to the words of a Christian physician, a doctor who wrote this tongue-in-cheek. He says, "There is no God? All of the wonders around us are accidental. No almighty hand made 1,000 billion stars. They made themselves. No power keeps them on their steady course. The Earth spins itself to keep the oceans from falling off toward the sun. Infants teach themselves to cry when they're hungry or hurt.
A small flower invented itself so that we could extract digitalis for our sick hearts. The earth gave itself day and night, tilted itself so we get the seasons. Without magnetic poles, we would be unable to navigate the trackless oceans of water and air. But they just grew there.
And how about the sugar thermostat in the pancreas? It maintains a level of sugar in the blood sufficient for energy. Without it, all of us would fall into a coma and die. Why does snow sit up on top of mountains, waiting for the warm spring sun to melt it at just the right time for the young crops and farms below to drink-- a very lovely accident?
The human heart will beat for 70 or 80 years without faltering. How does it get sufficient rest between beats? A kidney will filter poison from the blood and leave good things alone. How does it know one from the other? Who gave the human tongue the flexibility to form words and a brain to understand them, but denied it to all the animals? Who showed a womb how to take the love of two persons and keep splitting a tiny ovum until, in time, a baby would have the proper number of fingers, eyes, ears, and hair in just the right places and come into the world when it's strong enough to sustain life?" And he asked that pregnant question once again. "There is no God?"
But life from Mount Skeptical is pessimistic, mechanistic, humanistic. Now let's go back to verse 12 and see the view from Mount Spiritual, where for at least a few brief moments, he is upward, the astronaut view seeing the beauty of truth from a different perspective. In verse 12, he doesn't say life is a guess. He says life is a gift.
"I know that nothing"-- and notice "I know," words of confidence. "I know nothing is better for them than to rejoice and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor, for it is the gift of God. How many joyful Christians do you know who rejoice in life as a gift from God? Thank you, Lord, rather than complaints."
You put God into your thinking, as does Solomon here, and it changes your viewpoint. I know we've considered that in the past. But let this sink in. I even heard about a woman in San Francisco-- one of the earthquakes up there. She lost her home. It crumbled. And she was surveying the damage afterwards. And she walked around her home. And she had a grin on her face. And her neighbor said, what's wrong with you? She said, I just rejoice that I know the God who can shake this world. Even a disaster, even an earthquake, couldn't steal her joy. How about it?
You can complain and say, I hate this job, or you can say, thank you, Lord, that I can work, that I have a job, some kind of income. You can say, who cooked this food, this stinks, or you can say, thank you, Lord, I live in America with such abundance, that I have olfactory nerves and taste buds I can enjoy this food. You can complain and say, I wish I wouldn't have married that person, why'd I do it, or you can say, thank God there was somebody out there to marry me.
You see, you can count your griefs or you can count your gifts. Which viewpoint is it, Mount Skeptical-- life is a big guess-- or Mount Spiritual-- life is a gift from God? We're not a fortuitous occurrence of accidental circumstance. We're designed by God. And He gave us life as a gift. And beyond physical life, God also gives eternal life, salvation, to those who let Him and ask Him and make Jesus the Lord of their life. That's a free gift that you cannot earn if you receive it.
Second part of this perspective is that life is a test and we should relate to God. In verse 18, we already saw that he says God tests them, the sons of men, even though he's sunk to a lower level. But in verse 14, "I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, nothing taken from it. God does it so that men should fear before Him."
God's actions are permanent. They are complete. They are thorough. There is nothing superficial in what God does, a complete work. Last week, I think I mentioned my closets needed cleaning. I was convicted by that.
So this week, I decided I'd purge. I'd clean. I'd straighten. My closet is a mess. Let me rephrase that. My side of the closet was a mess till yesterday. But in the past, it wasn't quite buttoned everything and straightened. And so my solution is close the door.
You don't see it. Out of sight, out of mind. That works for me. Upstairs, I have some desk drawers in my office. And it is not straightened out. I got one drawer that's straightened with the files that I need to. But there's a lot of drawers. It's just--
That's the solution. Close it. You won't see it. Not God. Notice it says, "Whatever God does shall be forever." It is permanent. It is complete. It is thorough work. God made you permanent. You're permanent. You'll last forever.
There's only two things that will live forever, mankind, God's crowning creation. The soul of a man and the word of God will live forever. And what God does in you, your salvation, your cleansing, is permanent, man. It's fixed. It's forever.
And our response based on this verse-- notice it says, "so that we would fear before God." Now, you know that doesn't mean a superstitious cringing, the Wizard of Oz kind of shaking. It's a reverential respect. It's an awe. I would call the fear of God a reverential awe that leads to a humble submission to a loving God, a reverential are that leads to a humble submission to the loving and living God.
That's the view from Mount Spiritual. Life is a gift. Life is a test that I should relate to God, trust Him, respect Him. There is a third. Look over at verse 15. "That which is has already been. What is to be has already been. And God requires an account of what is past."
Now, in verse 16, right after that, he says, I notice there's inequity in the world. However, he follows that up in verse 17. "I said in my heart God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every purpose and for every work."
Life has a record, he seems to be saying here. We're going to report to Him one day. He is the judge. He has appointed a time when one day in history, the Supreme Court will convene Him, not seven, not five, not nine justices, one who sees everything, knows everything. And He will finally set that which is wicked and wrong and unjust right, correct.
The point he seems to be making here is that though there is unjust activities and there is inequity, it's short-lived. One day, God will set the record straight. First Corinthians 4-- Paul says, "Judge nothing before the time until the Lord comes"-- that's the time-- "who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart." There will be one day an accounting for every creature. The living and the dead, the Bible calls it, those who know Christ and those who don't. There will be a judgment that we will face. Life has a record we will account or report to Him.
By the way, this then is the answer to the skeptic. And the skeptics says, if God is all-powerful, He could destroy evil. If God is all-good, He would destroy evil. But evil is not destroyed. Therefore, there is no God.
We would counter that. And we would say, if God is all-powerful, He can destroy evil. If God is all-good, He will destroy evil. But evil is not yet destroyed. Therefore, one day, God can and will destroy all evil, which the Bible promises He will. Until then, life is a test. And we relate to God in some fashion. And at the end of that, God will bring a judgment on the living and on the dead.
Mount skeptical-- some of you've climbed that mountain and you've built your homes there. That's where you live. You get up every morning. And you view your life on Mount Skeptical. Life is unfair, man. Life is just temporary, man. Here and now, this is all you get.
And you're a pessimist. You're a cynic because you have not allowed God in your thinking. And Solomon's message is that when you do, there is a confidence. I know. I know. I know. I think it's time to get settled. It's time to make a choice. At least make an honest-- underscore the word "honest"-- inquiry into these things.
I've discovered that a lot of people who climb Mount Skeptical and live up there do so for convenience. Rent's cheap. It's a very convenient place to live. It's not that there's a lack of evidence for the Christian faith. It's not that there's a lack of evidence for God and creation, et cetera. It's abundant.
But if I accept that evidence, I'm going to have to change morally. Therefore, I'll walk around saying, I can't believe that stuff, man. What they really mean, quite honestly, is, I refuse to investigate it or accept it. They've chosen to live on Mount Skeptical and not make an honest, open inquiry and look at all the facts.
I heard about a wealthy businessman years ago. Years ago, when the microscope was first invented, he was at the World's Fair and he saw a microscope-- fascinated by it. They let him take flower petals and crystals and look under it. And he saw the beauty and the detail.
And this wealthy businessman said, I got to have one. So he coughed up the bucks. He bought one. He took one back home, had a blast with it. His family, his friends looked through it. And everything was great until one evening before his meal, he decided to place some of his food and look at it under the microscope.
Well, you know what happened. He saw creatures crawling about on it, microorganisms. It's on all food. He never knew that. And he saw those things crawling around in his food. And he was now in a dilemma. What would he do? He didn't want to stop eating. That was his favorite food. So he decided to smash the microscope, destroy the evidence that tells me the condition of what I'm about to eat.
How many people live that way? Throw out the Bible. Throw out the evidence. Throw out God. Just throw it all out. I want to live on Mount Skeptical, thank you very much. But I'm here to tell you, as well as others around you this morning, plus ultra. There is more than you can see if you let yourself.