12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil--this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him. 15 Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account. 16 And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment--wickedness was there, in the place of justice--wickedness was there. 17 I thought in my heart, "God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed." 18 I also thought, "As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?" 22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?
I feel like I'm on a sea-saw. On the one hand Solomon is elevating his conversation about himself and humankind to an eternal place. He speaks of the uniqueness of humanity and the beauty placed in the human heart by God. Even in this section of Scripture, he begins with such positivity and possibility. The turbulence of his trajectory seems to be gradually correcting, his ship being righted. Or maybe not...
He goes from talking about simple things being a gift of God and the desire of man to recognize these gifts resulting in reverence for their Creator to speaking of the equity at death between the righteous and wicked and the equity of animals and humans...both having breath in life and both facing death in the end. This shifts the pendulum back to a place of mistaken and misplaced identity. Just because the wicked and the righteous have death in common does not mean they will share the same everlasting fate, nor does the fact that animals breathe as we do and return to dust as we do make them equal to us in dignity or destiny. (Nothing against animals, but they don't have eternity set in their hearts.)
He ends by asking some questions peppered with debilitating doubt. Who knows if a man's spirit goes upward and an animal's spirit goes downward? His faith is wavering. His curiosity about the afterlife plagues him once again. His second question speaks again of his desire to see what will happen after he is gone. This guy wants to see what will happen when all is said and done. I wish I could say I've never gone there...but doubt about the future, specifically as it relates to eternity has a way of pestering us all I'm afraid. And the fear that our lives will mean nothing when we're gone does have a way of stopping us dead in our tracks.
I learn a great deal from Solomon's oscillating and vacillating heart. It grants me the permission to entertain the idea that our hearts struggle to stabilize on this earth. They seek certitude and concrete commitment, but often they are tossed about on the waves of weakness. I want to think I'm above such restlessness and rebellion, but my heart has turned against me a time or two down through the years. I can find myself wrestling with my heart trying to determine what is fiction and non-fiction. The lines blur especially in the watches of the night. I wonder if a good bit of this text was written in the dark and lonely hours between midnight and 3am in the morning.
I can in one moment feel chosen, loved, purposed, fulfilled, gifted and graced, only to be surprised by opposite and opposing feelings almost in the same day/hour. Part of me feels "more than a conquerer" and another part of me "less than a conquerer". In the end, I'm left battling my feelings with God's truth. Sometimes I just have to talk it out with someone, or write it out...something to get it off my chest. Other times I cry out in the night asking for light. I know my fragile emotions can't be trusted, but in the moment they feel so true. I feel this tug of war to be universal among humanity. Though the immensity and intensity of it varies, the tension is there.
The more I'm caught up in the world, the more at risk I feel to these cold seasons of the soul. The less I'm tethered to vain ambitions, the less vulnerable I am to feelings of futility and fatality. I'm not defeatist, instead, I'm living with hope. This is where I want to be. It's not always where I am, which is why I think God inspired Solomon to write out what he actually felt instead of what he knew he should feel. I'm thankful God chose to do that.