14 There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. 15 So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. 16 When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labour that is done on earth – people getting no sleep day or night – 17 then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.
In today’s reading the Teacher (King Solomon or a linked wisdom writer) deals with that old chestnut of “the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve” (8:14). This perennial ‘it’s not fair’ problem is also well covered in Psalm 73 and in Job 21-24. I suspect that we all struggle with this question from time to time. This is probably because we have an all too human view of what ‘success’ in this life should look like. True human success has been best demonstrated by Jesus himself and the great saints of the past and the present. It is less evident in the lives of the famous, the rich and the powerful! The Teacher is making it clear that our concept of’ fairness’ is not God’s! His advice for us is to enjoy gratefully the good things that God gives in this life and to take that joy to work with us and in our various responsibilities. He is not advocating arrogant eating, drinking and making merry without thought for others, as in the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:19-20). No. If we are to deal with the unexplainables of life we must “accept the gifts that God gives and place ourselves in His hands” (The New Bible Commentary).
Derek Kidner wrote that “the very busyness of life worries us into asking where it is taking us, and what it means, if it does mean anything. We hardly need The Teacher to point out that this is the very question that defeats us.” The Teacher applied his mind to all this in order to acquire wisdom and to understand all the hard work and sleeplessness of life (v16, 2:23). As a result, he says, “then I saw all that God has done” (v17). Armed with new insight, he states that, however knowledgeable, clever or wise we might be, we can never fully comprehend the injustices of ‘life under the sun.’ We can trust in God’s ultimate justice, but ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ is quite another matter. So “The Teacher’s conclusion is that we must be content not to know everything. Neither hard work (toil), persistent endeavour (seeking), skill or experience (wisdom) will unravel the mystery. Wise men may make excessive claims; they too will be baffled” (The New Bible Commentary). And sometimes so will we.
We really don’t have all the answers to this life’s ‘unfairnesses’, nor do any of the world’s many brilliant scientists, intellectuals and academics. However, what we do have is Jesus Christ who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John14:6). Jesus told His disciples that ”When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). The questions that we really do need to answer for ourselves and for others, are: who is Jesus, what has He done for me and how can I know Him? Jesus alone is God’s perfect answer to all of our questions ‘under the sun’ and for eternity.
Today’s Prayer: Thank you Father that you have given us through your Scriptures all the truths we need for this life and beyond. Lord Jesus, we ask you for the humility to trust you even when life seems to be harsh and unfair. Holy Spirit, please give us all the wisdom we need in this life and for the life to come. Amen. (Mike W)