The Frustration of Randomness

What if the ungodly are just as blessed as you, and you suffer just as much as they do?

I saw a video clip last week of a gazelle giving birth in the wild.  As the baby came out and touched the ground, and I was saying, “Wow!” a leopard ran out of the bushes, scared the mother away, and ate the baby.  

I’m nearing sixty years old, and I’ve been conditioned to expect tragedy every day—a shooting, or another exposé of the sex slave trade, or more statistics about the abortion holocaust that’s been going on for decades.  But this little video clip got around my filter.  It caused me to think once again about the brutal, unfair, bad luck nature of our world.  

I prefer a universe where all the dots connect.  Most Christians do, as well.  Think about the kind of testimonies that get all the kudos in churches.  A person goes up to the microphone, and begins to talk about how some adversity occurred in his or her life…but it turned out good.  Then the good turned into something better, until door after door opened for them.  The audience is cheering.  Later, the video goes viral, leading to a three-book deal.  

For every person who has one testimony of this kind, there are maybe a thousand who have an opposite experience.  Something bad happened in their life, and it didn’t turn into anything good.  It wasn’t attached to anything else.  It was a random, solitary event.  

That’s why the Book of Ecclesiastes shines.  It is intensely honest, and admits that many things in our world look downright random.  Remember, though, Ecclesiastes is a wisdom book, not an answer book.  That means it will call us to observe, consider, and then to apply what we learn.  

“All this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God” (9:1).  

Before going any farther into chapter 9, you must absorb this first verse, otherwise you will become disoriented.  No matter what happens, the righteous are in the hand of God.  

“Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him.”  

You cannot assess God’s love or displeasure based solely on external events.  If you are walking along and find a hundred dollar bill blowing in the wind, you cannot use that experience as a primary proof that God loves you.  Nor if you lose the money later on, can you conclude God hates you.  If you’re using that kind of criteria to gauge God’s feelings toward you, then you will go crazy.  He will seem to love you one minute and hate you the next.  

Verse 2 says,

“It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice.  As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.”  

Externally speaking, the same thing happens to all. I knew for instance, a cranky, small-hearted, bitter man, who resented the fact that his wife loved the Lord.  Then he got Alzheimer’s, and died.  I partly felt, Well, that makes sense.  But I also knew of a saintly woman named Elisabeth Elliot, who was the widow of a martyr named Jim, and who developed a written and spoken ministry that helped a lot of people.  Then she got Alzheimer’s and died.  I partly felt, This doesn’t make sense.   

Again, I knew of a man I didn’t respect very much, who went mountain climbing and who fell, and died.  That makes sense. But I also knew and respected a young man who sat under my teaching, became an editor at a major Christian magazine, and even endorsed one of my books.  He went climbing, fell, and died.   That makes no sense.  Christians and non-Christians both have gotten sick and then gotten well.  Both groups also find houses at bargain prices, land great jobs, and get promotions.  

Solomon says in verse 3,

“This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all.”  

Evil in this verse refers to unexplainable tragedy.  It doesn’t mean God does evil.  It simply describes how we feel toward the strange random way good and bad happens to everyone.  

Solomon continues, by saying, 

“Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.  But he who is joined to the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.  For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished” (vv. 3b-6a)  

The dead have checked out.  They’re no longer in this story.  However, you’re privileged to be here right now, above ground.  

“Forever the dead have no more share in all that is done under the sun” (v. 6b).  

But you do!  You’re still an active participant in what’s happening.  You’re still on the field, which means there’s hope for you.  Right now you are under the sun, in this tiny sliver of staging area.  Why is that so good?  Because the most important decisions you’re ever going to make, will be made now.  No decisions happen after death.  You make them all while you’re here in this crazy place, where things happen around you that make no sense.  

While you’re still alive, you can believe in Jesus.  Never think it’s too late, or that you’re too old, or that you’ve committed too many sins.  Nonsense!   Only the dead cannot make a decision to believe in Christ and be saved.  If you haven’t already, believe now and affect your eternity!  While you’re here under the sun, you can also decide to get serious about Christ, reading your Bible, and going to church.  

Your biggest advantage right now is that you know you’re going to die.   That is, you know you don’t have unlimited time.  If I were able to interview all the dead people, many of them would say they were caught by surprise.  They thought they were going to live ninety or a hundred years, and then die in their sleep.  They would talk about how something random happened,and it was suddenly all over.  Don’t allow yourself to be lulled into the same complacency. 

Solomon then says in verse 7,

“Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” 

He is calling us to a life of joy.  Don’t waste your time being angry, and resentful, like the current triggered culture.  God is already approving your enjoyment of the good things He will provide for you.  In fact, 1 Timothy  4:4 says, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received by thanksgiving.”  

As God gives you things, you receive them with thanks, because you realize you are not entitled to them.  We are beneficiaries of a multitude of gifts large and small.  The world is also full of items that can be misused for sinfulness.  That’s why we need verse 5 that says we receive things because “they are made holy by the word and prayer.”  The items we receive, and the way we use them, is approved by the Bible and prayerful discernment.  That is how the saints navigate this world, freely handling and receiving thousands of things.    

Solomon says in verses 8-9,

“Let your garments be always white.  Let not oil be lacking on your head.  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.”

Sometimes we make snarky remarks about marriage being an endurance contest, but it is one of God’s good gifts.  Don’t allow the random nature of current events to ruin your relationship with your spouse.  It’s too easy to descend into a foul mood, having seen something on social media or the news that aggravates you.  

Furthermore, verse 10 tells us,

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought of knowledge or wisdom in Sheol.”  

Once someone goes to Sheol, (the place of the dead), there are no more good works to be done.  That’s it.  When the coffin lid closes, your quota, large or small, is filled.  there’s no more thought or knowledge unto good works in that place.  Your only season to demonstrate your fidelity to Christ is right here, and right now, in this crazy place.  

It’s like the work referred to in Colossians 4:23—”Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord, and not for men.”  The dead have lost their opportunities to carry out this command.  

However, as you are working for the Lord, as well as enjoying your wife, and receiving God’s blessings, be aware that there will always be an element of apparent randomness to things.  In verse 11, Solomon said, 

“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”  

A person can be wonderfully talented, hardworking, and positioned for success, yet fail.  Why?  Because a chance event ruins their opportunities.  Chance is an “under the sun” word.  It doesn’t mean God has no control over the situation.  Chance simply describes how we view things.   Proverbs 16:23 tells us, “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  A great many things in life look like a dice roll, but it’s actually a decision made by God.   God either orders things for your life, or allows things upon your life.  Regardless, He is never absent from your life.  Remember how this chapter begins—the righteous are in the hand of the Lord.

Verse 12 adds, 

“For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.”  

God will do things in your life out of the blue, and while it’s perfect timing for him, it will be extremely inconvenient for you.  By all means, have a life plan, but don’t idolize it.  Don’t hold onto it too tightly.  Random events will come along and wreck your cherished plan, and if you have a death grip on it, then you, as well.      

Solomon provides us with an illustration in verses 13-16:  

“I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.”

This is a scenario worthy of world history.  A great king comes against Tiny Town, Ohio, with a force rivaling ten Russian armored and artillery divisions.  Yet, Tiny Town survives, because of one poor wise man.  “Who is he?” we ask.  Well, uh, we forgot.  

It reminds me of a man I knew who worked at a Fortune 500 company.  He invented a device that saved the company tens of millions of dollars. The company named him employee of the year.  Then, a few years later, they laid him off.  

Still, according to Solomon,

“I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.  The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good” (vv. 16-18).  

You won’t always feel that wisdom is the better way when you are forgotten, or shouted down.  You’ll try to counsel family and friends with righteous advice from the Scriptures, or attempt to share with them the message of salvation.  Even loved ones will dismiss you as a fool, or feel sorry for you.  

Wisdom is still better.  

Unfortunately, our world has become accustomed to a lot of shouting and fools, but not much wisdom. Real insight tends to spook people and provoke them into tantrums.  You’ll have to come to terms with the fact that nobody is going to congratulate you for following Jesus.  The only thing that gets celebrated today is how vulgar one can be on television.  Or, for posting politically correct memes, and outraged rants that pander to the woke mob.    

Wisdom is still better.

“Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, 
righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

(1 Cor. 1:30).

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