People read the Bible better during times of adversity. Suffering has a tendency to press our noses a little deeper into the text. David was wise enough to acknowledge this reality and to celebrate it. He said:
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71 ESV)
Job 36:15 expresses a similar sentiment:
“He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity.” (Job 36:15 ESV)
We hear things in times of trouble that we tend to ignore in times of ease. In that sense, COVID19 has been a blessing. I know that I’ve seen some things in my daily readings that had not previously been raised to my attention. This morning in particular as I worked my way through Ecclesiastes chapter 7 several fresh truths seemed to demand prayerful reflection and application. I found myself scribbling notes and making resolutions. I offer a few of the more obvious gleanings here for your consideration and discernment:
“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.”(Ecclesiastes 7:2 ESV)
Reflection: People don’t think about death a great deal so anything that gets them thinking in that direction can’t be all bad. 18 months ago I commonly complained that most of the people in our culture were too rich, too safe and too secure to give much thought to matters of eternity. Now, as we battle a significant third wave of infections in our region, I would imagine these barriers have been substantially worn down. Perhaps this will pave the way for useful Gospel conversations with friends and neighbours on the other side.
Resolution: Try to have conversations about life, death and eternity with people who have previously seemed uninterested. Assume that freshly troubled hearts will prove more receptive to the Gospel.
“Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9 ESV)
Reflection: Anger, regardless of where or toward whom it is directed, rarely produces wise or helpful responses.
Resolution: Cultivate friendships with leaders who have kept their heads in times of tribulation and trial.
“Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10 ESV)
Reflection: There is not a lot of value in pining after the old days. The old days are gone. Let’s make the best of today and every day that follows.
Resolution: Think less about what we’ve lost and think more about how things have changed. Start praying about what we will say and how we will reach people whose lives and assumptions have been upended by this pandemic.
“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14 ESV)
Reflection: A lot of people are accidental dualists. They credit God for the good days and blame the devil for the bad days. But God is Sovereign over all and he has purposes for his people in it all. Michael Eaton says here:
“Both prosperity and adversity have their uses. One leads to joy, the other draws attention to the realities of life and leads (if so allowed) to a life of faith in a sovereign God. Both are subject to God’s will and part of his providence. The constant fluctuation between them keeps us dependent not on our own guesswork, but on God who ‘holds the key to all unknown’.”
So maybe this is helpful. Maybe COVID has been a “Godsent”. Maybe it’s been good for me and good for my people and good for my mission field.
Resolution: Thank God for things I find difficult and disruptive.
“Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:18 NIV11)
Reflection: Wisdom is often about steering between principles. Foolishness is often about letting go of one in order to wrap yourself exclusively around another.
Resolution: Look at the whole picture. Consider every potentially applicable biblical principle. Listen to those who’ve come to different conclusions so as to identify blind spots.
“Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.” (Ecclesiastes 7:21 ESV)
Reflection: A lot of things are being said right now, because tensions are high and tempers are hot, but most of it should be forgotten. People say things under pressure. Short memories will make it easier for us all to be friends again when this is over.
Resolution: Don’t take to heart what critics say under pressure. Develop a patchy memory for slander and offense. Assume a certain degree of pandemic psychosis. Resolve to extend a handshake to anyone willing to take it and return it on the other side.
Truly the Word of the Lord is sufficient for the challenge of every hour and every season – thanks be to God!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can find his personal blog, Semper Reformanda, by clicking here.
Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18 of Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 129.