Not everyone should be a brain surgeon; most people don’t have the knowledge and skill. Not everyone should run marathons, because many don’t have the physical strength or health. Not everyone should be parents, because many people are nothing but 40-year-old children themselves. But what about this statement: “Everyone ought to be a theologian”?
What is a theologian? A theologian is someone who studies God – God’s attributes and works. But a true theologian must study Jehovah, not any of the human-devised gods found through the world. And of course, only people who are born again can be accurate theologians. No one without the Bible and the blessing of the Holy Spirit will be a successful theologian. And no earth-bound human being will ever be smart enough or holy enough to truly know Jehovah. Nevertheless, as Solomon tells us, we all should “consider the work of God.” “Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God.” Solomon specifically suggests that we consider the fact that only Elohim can make straight something which He previously made crooked – verse 13.
As I was reading and re-reading this chapter, asking the Lord for an outline to use, it occurred to me that amidst the confusion of thoughts about life, there are illustrations of crookedness. As Bunyan’s Pilgrim found, the road to the Celestial City is not as straight as Jesus’ parable seems to suggest. It weaves through meadows, forests and swamps. It goes up and down hills and mountains; through canyons and along the edge of cliffs. How can we best walk through the valley of the shadow of death? The best route will always be the one which the Lord chooses for us. “Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.”
That is the essence of my message this evening, but I think I’m obligated to use these verses to flesh out that outline just a bit.
You are already familiar with the crookedness of life.
Our lives are not like the passage of an arrow through time eventually reaching the Lord’s target. God Himself has ordained that life be filled with zig and zag – blessings and trials. And He has left us with no commands to make straight that which He has made crooked. Besides, as Solomon tells us, no man CAN make the Lord’s crooked paths straight. But we do have the responsibility to turn both blessings and trials into opportunities to bring Him glory.
This paragraph begins with reference to an inheritance. A good preacher might turn verses 11 and 12 into a message on the saint’s inheritance in the Lord. But that is not Solomon’s intention. His reference to money, indicates that, as in most of this book, he is thinking along secular paths. Many have been blessed by inheritances from their parents – sometimes small and sometimes larger. God’s inspired preacher points out that an inheritance is especially good when it is coupled to wisdom. But of course, when comparing money to wisdom, wisdom is far more important. “For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.” Unlike an inheritance filled with money, the right kind of wisdom results in life eternal.
Where has all that blessed inheritance gone since you received it so many years ago? Did you invest it wisely, or was it squandered in the way the prodigal spent his early inheritance. Even if you did use that gift wisely, at some point as you look back, doesn’t it seem to have vanished? “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him” – verse 14.
Life is filled with crookedness, and in looking around don’t we even see lots of crooks? “All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness.” “There is not a just man upon the earth that doeth good, and sinneth not.” Verse 20 doesn’t apply only to the criminal, wicked politician and ACLU lawyer. “All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.” And Paul said in Romans 7:19 – “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” Even the life of the very best man is crooked – straight and true one day but veering off into murky waters the next day.
Verses 16 and 17 are difficult and confusing, but at least they illustrate the crookedness of my theme. “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?” Should we look at these words as coming from misguided skeptic – a depressed student of life? Or should we lift these to a more spiritual level? Is Solomon saying that it doesn’t matter whether we are righteous or wicked, we all come to same physical end? Or is the Holy Spirit telling us that a growing SELF-righteousness is no better than wickedness? Should we learn here that God hates the hypocrite in his pseudo-goodness and that He will bring him down in humility and death?
Ah, the crookedness of life. How many people have we befriended or blessed, such as a neighbor we helped or a man we employed. We thought that person appreciated us and were thankful for the help we had given. But then at some time down the road, we overheard him speaking evil of us to some third party. No matter how much we had been kind to him, it wasn’t enough in his estimation. “Take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee” – verse 21. And how did you respond? Maybe you cursed him in the depths of your heart. Or upon more reflection, you remembered that you have been just as guilty of accusing others. “For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.”
Not even friends can be fully trusted to be there when we need them in the crookedness of life. Verse 27 – “Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found.” And this is not restricted to gender – the problem is equally bad among women. “But a woman among all those have I not found. Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”
Unbelievers sometimes come to us with the great conundrum of life – crookedness. “If there is a God in Heaven, why hasn’t He stepped in to rid the world of all its strife and evil?” Some who ask this question are sincere. But others ask it with pride, thinking they have come up with something quite outstanding and devastating to Bible Christianity. They have applied theirs hearts “to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness.” But 99 times out of 100, they refused to begin at the beginning – in their own hearts. “That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?”
Sin is the agent of the crookedness in this world, and yes, God has permitted it.
But there is a solution – it is the Lord Himself.
“Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?” Solomon doesn’t supply the answer within this chapter, but he does so later in this strange and confusing book. I know that I’m getting ahead of myself, but the last verses of Ecclesiastes read: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
When we choose to look at life through the lenses prescribed and made by the Lord, we should be able to make sense out of what surrounds us. There is most definitely someone who can bring the crooked into a proper alignment – the Almighty God. Didn’t John the Baptist say something about his ministry with the Lord, making things straight? And speaking about John – did his life fly straight and true without problems and trials? Wasn’t John on the verge of becoming like Job in the midst of his trials? “Art thou he that should come, (the Christ) or do we look for another?” Daniel’s life was bent into 90 degree crookedness, but he kept his eye on the Lord, and he reached his eternal destination. We could talk of Peter, John and Paul and the trials which bent their lives out of shape. And then there is poor Joseph down there in Egypt, but look how things ended up for him.
When we live in the realization and faith that God goes with us into the valley of the shadow of death, we have no reason for fear. It doesn’t matter what evil lays beyond the next curve in the crookedness of life. Because right behind that evil is the Lord, who ordained that crookedness and who will make the rest of eternity straight.