Friday, September 22, 2006

They're nihilists, nothing to be afraid of. They won't hurt us. These men are cowards.

I heard a song on the radio today by Alanis Morissette, the lyrics of which I found ironic since I'd been doing some reading in Ecclesiastes.

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
And isn't it ironic...dontcha think

It's like rain on your wedding day
It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Who would've figures
-Alanis Morissette, Ironic
This portion of the song labels as ironic events that seem cruel or unfortunate where the good is tainted by the bad, so that life cannot be fully enjoyed. The song expresses a perception that life is filled with disappointments that lead one to be disillusioned and potentially feeling disenfranchised.

This postmodern observer expresses ideas similar to that of Solomon.
I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. -Ecclesiastes 1:12-14 (ESV; unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are from Ecclesiastes)
Surely, Solomon the most wise on the planet could figure out the world and comprehend God's ways so that he could sleep at night and have confidence in the universe's mechanics. Right? Not so much. In fact, I think it's his wisdom that leads him to see all as vanity from our human perspective, since His ways are not our ways and His thoughts not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

From the human perspective, life can be a real beat down, even for the wise.
So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
-Ecclesiastes 2:17 (ESV)
As God has designed and runs His universe, He has ordained that human life be a mixture of pleasure and pain, happiness and hardship. For example, there's "a time to be born, and a time to die ... a time to weep, and a time to laugh" (3:2, 4).
I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (3:10-11)

Just from observing the world apart from knowing by faith that God is running it, naturally leads one to see meaninglessness.
In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. (7:15)
I'm reminded of Kant's approach to the question of whether or not the course of human history was one of progress, regress, or no distinguishable pattern. He maintained that one had to operate "as if" the world was in a state of progress, despite evidence that might appear to the contrary.

But the postmodern mind is not apt to do so. If nothing has meaning, then morality indeed becomes relativistic or at a minimum community derived, dictated. Why not become a Nihilist? If there's no benefit to "doing good," then why not succumb to Nihilism?
There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. (8:14-15)

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 is the good, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. 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. (9:2-3)

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. 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. (9:11-12)

We've all seen the bad guys win and sometimes cheaters do win and nice guys often do finish last. God may bless you with a long life after many years of lacking sleep and mass consumption of bacon, or you could be in the fittest of shape and a health nut and get hit by a car. God in His providence determines our time (Heb 9:27), and only a fool plans the future without recognition of God's authority (Luke 12:16-21).
So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. (11:8)
Should God grant you many days, enjoy the time in which to serve Him and steward your body and resources well, but recognize no guarantees.
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity. (12:8)
It's certainly easy to look at the world and see it as chaos and the height of instability, but Christians know life is worth the living just because He lives, because He holds the future.

It's highly unlikely that you will figure the universe out or understand why God did/allowed what He did in your life. You may search in vain for meaning, even with your 20/20 hindsight. Yet, God has made a promise of working all for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). However, just don't suppose you'll be able to figure that out, nor should you be disheartened. Afterall, we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

That's why we're not nihilists, because we know the universe has meaning because He is working out all things in accordance with His good pleasure (Eph 1:11). An omnipotent and benevolent God in charge is a source of comfort, as we trust in spite of our understanding.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (12:13-14)

So, we fear God and do what He says; that is our duty. It is hard, but that's the nature of faith, confidence in the unseen (Heb 11:1).

Akin to what Tennyson said, ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do and die. If into the Valley of Death rode the 600, then we too can go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, fearing no evil, for God is with us (Ps 23:4).
Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out
Helping you out
-Alanis Morissette, Ironic
What telling lyrics ... Life has a funny way of helping you out. Note the perception of intentionality.

A more "modern" perception might be one of random events in accordance with natural laws, but not as a supernatural force (life personified) influencing mundane experiences. Instead of a nihilistic perspective that eliminates external intentionality, the song instead expresses dissatisfaction with the way things are (done). The observer is perplexed, much as Solomon expressed.

It's enough to make us want to throw up our hands in disgust or confusion at times, but the secret is greater faith, not the ability to see.
I hear men praying everywhere for more faith, but when I listen to them carefully, and get to the real heart of their prayer, very often it is not more faith at all that they are wanting, but a change from faith to sight. Faith says not, "I see that it is good for me, so God must have sent it," but, "God sent it, and so it must be good for me." Faith, walking in the dark with God, only prays Him to clasp its hand more closely.
-Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

Because of our faith and trust in God, we are not cowards. We face each day with an awareness that pain reminds of the grace we have in Christ, that He took our ultimate pain on the cross, and pleasure reminds of the infinite pleasure that awaits those who are justified.

P.S. If you're up for some fun, scope out this video, but only after watching the one above first.


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