September 20, 2016 — Ecclesiastes 2:1–3
I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly — my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
So lately I have been experimenting with discipline again. Growing up it was easy for me to get into a rhythm of doing the right thing because it was the right thing. The simplistic definitions of right and wrong I followed were ones of doing what needed to be done, or giving into sinful passions. That meant that anything that could lead to an abuse of pleasure—alcohol, tobacco, sex, ect., would lead to some sort of sinful behavior if they were trifled with. Y0u don’t want to give the devil a foothold after all.
Not unlike most undergrads, I began to question the things that I held to be true in my family’s house growing up, and began to physiologically experiment with different substances (that is to say, I still obeyed the laws and all that, but asked myself why I ought to follow those laws). It is easy for me to accept the answer “because I said so” from God. If the Bible says don’t do it, I do strive not to. But the problem is that the Bible isn’t a document of God saying “do this or that because I said so.” It is the story of God putting to death the vile brokenness we call life, and calling us into living into the reality of new life in Christ.
This means that it is absolutely wrong for us to strive to do what is right because God wants us to do it. When this is our motivation we set up the idol of Jesus being the means to which we live a holy life, rather than being the very life that we are to take on ourselves. The fact of the matter is, God doesn’t want us to become a more holy version of ourselves. He wants us to die more and more so that the only thing that will be seen is the life of Christ.
Anyone who has known me for fifteen minutes into a meal knows that this is something that I think a lot about, and that I am extremely interested in talking about. And it is generally at this point that I start getting a little bit of push back. It usually comes about when I repeat something that my pastor said to me a few years ago, “God is not interested in you sinning less.”
That sounds absolutely ludicrous. It was because of those very same deplorable sins that Jesus stepped out of his divinity into the suffering of humanity. The problem is that when I say that God isn’t interested in us sinning less it can sound a lot like God doesn’t care about sin. Let me just clear this up, He does.
But I do still think that our way of talking about the sins in our lives reveals our lack of understanding of what it means to be united to the person of Christ, and yet still struggle with sin. We continue to define ourselves by our sinful tendencies even though we are one with Christ. We determine that our oneness in Christ is something to work towards to eventually bring to completion, rather than believing what has already been made true.
It does still become possible to grow in one’s understanding of what it means to live out the reality of union with Christ, and yet still take advantage of the grace that has been given to us. As my pastor says, we are choosing to get a drink out of a dirty toilet rather than feasting at the table that has already been set before us. It is not that we need to work with Christ to earn a place at the table; it is always there waiting for us.
That is why people like me need to be reminded of the meaninglessness of worldly pleasures. While it is true that an amazingly crafted beer is not a foothold for the devil in my life towards alcoholism, it is a possibility for me to mistake the goodness of craftsmanship for the goodness of God Himself. Every good and perfect gift does come from God above, and this means that we are invited to enjoy the fruits of this world. But when we become consumed with the best restaurants, beers, wines, bacons, and cheeses we can lose sight that these things are not where our joy is found. They are meaningless.
The key is to remember that these good things on earth are just as meaningless as the wisdom that the teacher was talking about in the previous verses. When we look to the delights of the world, or the delights of structured living and wise choices, we are setting up an idol in our hearts. The realization of the vanity of it all frees us up to die to this world, all the while enjoying what it has to offer.