Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 4: THE PREACHER’S DOWNWARD MUSINGS…Continued

The Preacher is quite pessimistic and the level of seeming despair is evident when he reasons after beholding the defenseless oppressed and those crushed by the strong and mighty:

“Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.(Vv.1-4)

The oppressed and their tears exacerbates the Preacher’s experience as he considers the lack of comfort the downtrodden receive, “…they had no one to comfort them…” and the power of those oppressing them.  The weak ruled by the mighty, the defenseless overcome by the strong, and bitterness is the soup of the needy.

The Preacher saw acts of oppression which caused him to conclude that the “dead” (v.2a) are better off than the living.  That’s pessimism on steroids, to congratulate the dead over against the oppressed, but the Preacher is not yet finished.  Not only are the dead praised for not being in the muck of life, but those who have never come into existence are better off than the dead.  How can one be better off than the oppressed and the dead if they aren’t or never have been?  In his view, to behold the evil his eyes have witnessed and the damage inflicted on the soul is so severe, that seemingly what can’t be—a knowing and non-existent knower—is better than the alternative of existing and thus suffering horrible ills.   

While there’s oppression and evil, there’s also liberty and goodness, but then again the gloom that looms over a life without God is acutely unbearable.  I have not experienced the evils many have through the annals of time, but I have experienced despair and wrestled with dark thoughts of suicide because of suffering.  For the follower of Jesus, under such circumstances, Paul reminds us that God is working on our behalf behind the scenes:

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”   (Romans 8:28-30)

So, when despair seems to be swallowing you up believer, know that it is momentary and that the heavenly Father, has not abandoned you, but is rather working through the pain to make you more like Jesus.

To the non-believer or skeptic, my suggestion is for you to investigate the claims of Christ to see whether or not they make sense to you.  For of all the authorities that command us how to live, only Christ Jesus claimed to be the uncreated creator who is self-existent and conquered the grave through the resurrection.  To dismiss his claims, which came through eyewitness accounts as mere fantasy, is not only pedestrian but a brazen refusal to behold the immense evidence to support his claims.

LORD, when darkness comes remind us that you truly are our light, that a life without you truly is meaningless, ugly, cold, and gray.  Teach us to look to you when suffering seems too unbearable and grant the grace required for us to finish the race set before us as we look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.

(SDG)

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ECCLESIASTES: WHAT IS THE MEANING OF VANITY?

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In Hebrew, the word for vanity is hebel—הָ֫בֶל, which means “vapor” or “breath”. This word is dominant in the book of Ecclesiastes compared to the rest of the Old Testament books.  Hebel can refer to that which is, worthless or       unsubstantial such as an idol (Jer.10:5) or life itself (Job 7:16).[1]  This word is found in contexts where the activity engaged brings no profit be it through: Egypt’s might (Is. 30:7); idol worship (Dt. 32:21) or Abel and Cain’s labor (Gen. 4).

Hebel evaluates people and things making value judgements on them and concluding that these lack any real “substance.”[2]  Deceitfully gaining riches in light of our finitude for example is hebel—worthless.  Among our worthlessness under the sun is our might, beauty and youth all of which in our culture are worshipped (Prov. 31:30; Is. 30:7; Ec. 11:10).[3]

To the Preacher, it is death that precisely makes life meaningless or vain (Ec.3:19) and that is why he is so pessimistic about human existence.  In Ecclesiastes the dominant use of hebel is the universally considered devaluation of a person or thing.[4]  The nihilism is very dark and gloomy for life without God is no life at all.  That’s the message, that’s the reality check, that’s the abyss.

(SDG)

[1] BDB, Pg.210

[2] TDOT, Pgs.313-314

[3] Ibid., Pg.319

[4] Ibid., Pg.319

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA? “Why Black Lives Can’t Matter…If…” PART 1

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We humans share many things in common; we desire to be loved and accepted for who we are not what we can do; we long for happiness and fulfillment; we don’t like it when people mistreat us; we dislike it when people lie to us; we all try to make sense out of reality as we know it.  These dearly held notions are mainly communicated through words.

The “Black Lives Matter” notion is a case in point.  The desire to communicate that “we matter” can be put “our lives have meaning” and we should thus be treated a certain way.  But whether or not that’s actually true depends on the worldview held.

For example, if naturalism is true (a la Atheism), and humans are merely material entities without an immaterial soul, an accident of macro-evolution where there’s no design, purpose or meaning, then “Black Lives” actually don’t matter.  This is true for at least two reasons; first, “meaning” is not something physical—it can’t be tasted, seen, smelled, heard, or touched, but its’ effects (which are immaterial) are constantly seen in the physical world.  Secondly, the basis of naturalism is that there is no “mind”, no “design”, no “better”, no “progress” but “eternal matter that just is”.

According to the this worldview, humans are simply born, live out their meaningless lives, and then die, never to be remembered, cherished or loved again.  It’s a cold reality.  Thus if this position is true, “Black lives can’t matter”.

Another example comes from nihilism (naturalism’s child) which reduces all of life to chance plus matter plus time.  This means that human decisions are matter in motion and are thus determined.  This means that human choices are not significant, but a mere illusion.  The reason is because what seems to be “our decisions” is actually, impersonal, mechanistic matter in motion.  According to this worldview, those in favor of or against “Black lives matter” have no choice in the matter, but are simply determined to one “view” or another.  Thus if this position is true, then really “Black lives can’t matter”.

Still another example is pantheistic monism (a la Buddhism and certain branches of Hinduism), which among other things teaches that the individual is part of the oneness of the universe, that life is illusory and thus “individuality” is not real, but a fantasy.  Trying to get meaning from this position is an exercise in futility.  Ironically, many Westerners have looked to the East for its wisdom and insight on reality, except that at its core, there’s a denial of reality.  According to this worldview, there’s no real “Black lives that matter” because that whole notion too is an illusion.  Thus, if this position is true, “Black lives can’t matter”.

Yet another example is moral relativism (a la the University), which among other things is the self-refuting position that there’s no such thing as absolute truth (i.e. correspondence view of truth) and “we know this to be absolutely true”.  That is, the basis for reality is not any higher power, God, etc., but the individual who creates what is true and right for herself/himself.

If this worldview is true, then “Black Lives can’t matter” for it means that we can’t tell anyone that they are wrong because the individual decides; we can’t complain about the problem of evil because the individual decides; we can’t blame or praise anyone for deeds they’ve performed because the individual decides; we can’t object to injustice because the individual decides; we can’t improve on our morality because the individual decides; we can’t have meaningful moral discussions nor demand tolerance from the opposition because the individual decides.

The “Black Lives Matter” position under this worldview is incoherent at best and diabolical at worst.  Under this self-refuting worldview, “Black lives can’t matter”.

In contradistinction to the aforesaid, theism (a la Judaism or Christianity) holds that the universe—contra naturalism—is not a closed system but one that is open.  This means that both divine and human decisions significantly shape the present and the future.  Moreover, in a theistic world human beings are not chance accidents or illusory entities—contra nihilism and pantheistic monism—but created in God’s image and likeness with the purpose to reflect the wonder of the Creator unlike any other creature.  And in opposition to moral relativism, theism grounds all truth and morality in the Creator not the fading whims of the creature.

Only in a theistic worldview can one coherently and rationally argue that “Black lives matter”.  For if the God of Scripture (I.e., The Law, Prophets, & Writings, and the New Testament) actually exists, not only do Black lives matter, but every life matters.  The reason is because human meaning under this worldview comes from the Self-existent, Eternal, All-wise, All-powerful, All-knowing God who came near to us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

And I would further say that only from this theistic worldview can emotions rightly and compassionately be expressed, because they are rationally based on the God who is there, the One to whom all humanity will give account for their lives—which indeed matter.

(SDG)

Summary Chapter 5: Zero Point_Nihilism

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Chapter 5: ZERO POINT—NIHILISM (Pgs.74-93)

Sire begins this chapter by arguing that nihilism is a denial of ultimate reality and is thus more of a worldview than a philosophy.  This is evident in the artwork produced which denies meaning on the one hand, but possess a structure to it on the other hand, and thus ends refuting itself.  For structure, presupposes meaning, a mind, design, etc.

Nihilism, Sire continues, is the child of naturalism which reduces all of life into chance plus time plus matter.  To make a choice is really illusory for what seems to be “our decision” is actually determined matter in motion.  This means there’s no such thing as free will.  All that exists is unknown determinism masked as chance that cares for no one nor favors anyone.  It just is.  Add to that naturalism’s claim to knowledge which according to Darwin is quite dubious since our brains are only a higher order from monkey’s, who knows if it’s not deceiving us into thinking something illusory?

Nihilism, in light of the aforesaid, commits the; is/ought fallacy, for there’s no outside influence telling us what is right or wrong.  This loss of knowing ushers in a loss of morals, which escorts people into a meaningless life.  Futility thus destroys any sense of real beauty in art and living this worldview consistently often leads one to madness (Pg.93 consider nihilism’s heroes).