Here in Ecclesiastes Solomon is describing a spiritual journey. It was HIS journey – which began under the tutelage of his godly father David. But Solomon was detoured and led away from the Lord by the lusts of his flesh. Generally speaking people are not free to sin or not to sin. Rather they are slaves to their own flesh – which means they are more prone to sin than not to sin. Every baby is a drug baby – with addictions in their blood – they are addicted to sin. And despite good parents and education, more often than not we all prefer the detours which take us away from godliness. While he was away, Solomon was tasting every possible sin – and crossing every conceivable line. When the Lord finally brought him to his senses, he looked back at the path he had been walking and tried to describe it. That description is what we find in the Book of Ecclesiastes.
As he speaks to us in chapter 1, Solomon is still looking at life through only one eye. If you ever lost one of your senses, like sight or hearing, you’d survive, but your life would be different. If I broke my glasses and I couldn’t find an old pair, my life would get complicated in a hurry. At the very least I would misinterpret things going on around me. Perhaps a better illustration might be the loss of a single lense out of my glasses. With only a monocle, I would loose my depth of vision – I wouldn’t be able to judge distances. It would not be a good idea for me to drive until I became adjusted to the change in my sight.
Solomon says many things in Ecclesiastes which are true, but sometimes they are only half true. He is looking through one eye – and even that one is covered with a cataract. And that is how we should think about what he says in verse 15.
How is what he say true and what are its lessons?
I’ve brought with me a piece of paper, and now I am going to wad it into a ball. Solomon might say that I have made it crooked or crumbled. Now let’s straighten it out. No matter how hard I try, I cannot bring that piece of paper back to its original condition. What if I used an iron? What if I first got it wet? Could I restore it? Let me try another experiment with this paper clip. I assume that it began as a straight piece of wire, which was bent into the paper clip shape. It should be easy to take it back to its original straightness, but it is not. And now having tried to go to the original, what if I try to remake the paper clip. It will never be the same. Although Solomon is not talking about paper clips, he is thinking along those lines.
There are some things which can be made straight at times, but not at other times. I have already referred to a tool called an iron, invented to straighten wrinkles out of clothes. When it is heated and especially when a little mist is applied, most wrinkles can be made to disappear. But I have trousers with a crease down the front – that crease cannot be flattened or straightened. Once upon a time the fabric in the trousers could have been ironed and smoothed, but not now. There is a period in the life of most trees when they can be bent over and made to touch the ground. But eventually the tree grows to the point where it would break before bending very far. Some things can never be straightened and other things, originally more supple, eventually refuse to be bent.
And something else which begins flexibly but soon stiffens is our life. I am not thinking of our aging bodies – which is certainly true – am speaking about something bigger – life. For example, there are thousands of smokers, who wish that they weren’t bent toward nicotine. And joining them these days are thousands of marijuana smokers. I have counseled men who wish they weren’t bent toward pornography – but bent they are. Many parents wish that their kids weren’t bent towsard lying or to stealing. There are others who wish the same about their alcohol, gambling or a hundred other addictions.
And then we come to the world of religion. We are all naturally bent toward humanism in one shape or form. As Sergey Mocholov says – we are addicted to “man-centered” rather than “God-centered” religion. Most human hearts and minds cannot admit to a theology where God is truly sovereign. Then a few steps beyond that are those Christians whose lives are addicted to various unchristian sins. Some cannot help but hate the man with the differing opinion. And there is that pride which rises up because we are right and they are wrong. Some religionists are so negative that they can’t be blessed by anything but by their current theological obsession. The list of these crookednesses is long.
How did these people got into their self-made contortions? Whether it be depression, addiction, rejection or self-centeredness, in every case it began by submitting to that first-time exposure. At some point in their lives they said “Yes” to that first cigarette – or joint – or bottle of beer. It may have been after years of saying “No” but eventually they changed words and attitudes. But admittedly, some of our crooked ways began at birth, like some horrible prenatal malformity.
Since most things cannot be made straight once they are bent, obviously it is better to keep straight. Right in front of the Oldfield’s dining room window there is a tree. Judy and I have been calling it a Saskatoon tree, because the fruit remind us of a certain variety of Canadian berry, but it is probably better known as a Service Berry. That tree wasn’t carefully tended before we bought the house, so it leans to the left. At times we have driven stakes deep into the ground and tightened ropes to the tree and the stake. We’ve tried to teach it good posture and bring it to attention, but we’ve been only marginally successful. It would have been so much easier if it had been planted straight, or at least early on had those stakes and ropes.
For human beings things must be different, but we still have our ropes and stakes. For example, there are literally hundreds of them throughout the Word of God. Last Wednesday, we used the stake Solomon had driven into Proverbs 11:2, and then I attempted to tie a couple dozen ropes from that stake to us. When pride enters a man’s heart there will be consequences – “When pride cometh then cometh shame,” and a number of other deleterious results. What should we do when an acquaintance gives us a filthy picture or story? Proverbs 1:10 – “My son if sinners entice thee consent thou not.” Proverbs 4:14 – “Enter not into the path of the wicked and go not in the way of the evil man.” I Thessalonians 5:22 – “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” What should be our response when invited to join someone in kissing and fondling – petting? I Timothy 2:22 – “Flee youthful lusts, but follow after righteousness.” I Corinthians 6:18 – “Flee fornication.” What should we do when someone is trying to goad us into a fight? Remember that the Bible says, “Blessed are the peace-makers.” “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.” We could mention all kinds of sins and temptations …. so many come with scriptural warnings. But we can summarize things with I Peter 2:21 – “For hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” We can add verses like Psalm 119:105 – “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” And we could build upon that with verse 130 – “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth light unto the simple” – might we substitute the word “supple”?
Most living things, including you and me, begin supple, but quickly harden, even to the point of brittleness. That baby boy could become a prophet or a profligate. That girl could become a demon or the dearest thing of heaven on earth Don’t let sin ruin your life. Don’t let that clean sheet of paper become marred and wrinkled.
Unfortunately Solomon’s truth doesn’t run out just yet. Although closely linked – our lives are not the same thing as our souls. Our lives are what other see; the outward expression of what lays within. And a man’s life may appear to be straight as an arrow, but it may be pointed downward toward hell. The Lord Jesus reminds us that “inwardly they are ravening wolves.” The testimony of the Word is that we are born crooked with sin and native depravity.
This crookedness cannot be made straight by parents, psychiatrists or even priests. And this too reminds us of other scriptures – similar scriptures. “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am free from my sin?” “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” Solomon says that this crookedness is hopeless. Is there then no hope for me in my twisted crippled bent condition?
This is where we find Solomon near-sighted, for there is a Straightener.
Now we see where Solomon’s words are not entirely true – to the glory of God. I cannot straighten my paper clip or restore it to its paper clip shape. But a man with the proper tools could do it. And I cannot take all the wrinkles out of my sheet of paper. But one source of nice clean paper is wrinkled, used and wasted paper, which has been “melted” so-to-speak and reformed. There is not a man on earth who can straighten out a sin-corrupted soul. Solomon is absolutely right. Not Alcoholics Anonymous, Reformers Unanimous, not prison, or a mob of psychiatrists. Not our Lady of Fatima, not the Pope, not Calvary Baptist church or any other church. Again, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?”
But consider Isaiah 40:3-4 – “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” Any casual reader of the Bible knows to whom this refers. They know the interpretation because in Luke 3 it was applied to John the Baptist, whose commission was to point to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me read the next few verses in Isaiah 40 – “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” That picture of withering grass comes pretty close to the image of wrinkled paper and crooked paper clips. The omnipotent Son of God has the ability to make the grass grow and the paper smooth. He can make the crooked straight and the impossibly high mountain easy to climb.
I was talking to an exuberant Christian man last Thursday – an extra-uberant man. His joy in the Lord cannot be contained; the first time we met I was drawn to him as if we were both magnets. Thursday, he was telling me about befriending a man who used to live at a local meth house. The other man was a huge Pacific Islander, who was as bent over – as pulled down by sin – as a human could be. But through patient witnessing, the Lord reached out and crushed that man’s wicked heart, and he professed to repent and trust Christ. My acquaintance lost contact with the man for several years, but recently ran into him again. He is now married, has two or three small children, has a good job, and has left behind his former crookedness.
Solomon, while somewhat correct in pointing that in ourselves crookedness is permanent, does not in this verse deny that with God “all things are possible.” Solomon might have said that homosexuals are beyond help, but I’ll point to the omnipotent God, and beg to differ. Solomon might suggest that some sinners can be saved, but their lives will never be made straight. But I’ll point to a few ex-convicts that we know, and again I will disagree. The Great Physician can straighten backs crippled over with scoliosis or lordosis curvature of the spine. And He can straighten scoliosised souls and lives.
I know Christians who are as near-sighted as Solomon – as one-eyed as Solomon. Don’t be like them – there is a balm in Gilead. God can recover the lives of His people. But they, and we, have to want to be recovered. And still, it is far better not to become outwardly crooked in the first place.