Ecclesiastes 2:17-23 (NIV) So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
There is a part of me that aches with meaninglessness. I cannot describe fully, how terrible it is. Who can manage it? Solomon the writer of Ecclesiastes describes the pain of wisdom. He described the meaninglessness of the daily life.
I’ve always, even before becoming a Christian, been keenly aware of the meaninglessness of life. I’ve always been a deeply depressed young man. Maybe I just read too much. And maybe it’s been a tough walk. Psychologists say that the impact of a divorce, in particular, an ugly divorce is often worse than the death of a parent, on the children involved.
There are many types of pain in life. There are many ways to hurt. But who can say that they are happy? I’ve asked that question to many, and the most common answer is that they are not happy. Many say that God wants us to be happy. And I believe that. The question I wonder about is the timing. Happy now, or happy later?
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.
Timing is everything. Who can know the mind of God? Who can perceive a being without beginning or end? I have yet to understand the self existence of God. The first question is always, well, who made God? Anything that exists has a beginning, right? Then I think, if I was God, I would be intensely disturbed by the notion of how I came into existence. I would be terrified to ask who I was, and how I came into being. Because everything I am aware of has come into being, including myself. At any moment before 6:00 PM on April 6th, 1985 I did not exist aside from inside the belly of my mother. Nine months prior I did not exist what-so-ever.
In a very real way, I find myself incapable of understanding a self-existent entity capable of generating a universe with mere thoughts and acts of will. The notion is beyond my ability to comprehend. Because by all the calculations I muster, there must be something before and therefore the designer of what is after. But logically there must be a first undesigned designer. Origins is an absolutely fascinating topic. But I’ll leave it there.
The past few days have been an absolute whirlwind of emotional chaos and depression within my own mind. I very often struggle with intense, crippling depression. I struggle with anger too, and frustration. I don’t know how most people do it. This is such a difficult existence. I find myself so isolated from those around me, that I can hardly bear it. I find myself so desperately crippled by fear and worry that I can hardly keep going day by day.
Always in my mind is the starkness of the limitations of this Earth. Always in my mind is the evil, the political corruption, the next mission and the next lost cause to champion. The burden of my heart is for the millions around me who seem brainwashed to care for nothing but sports teams, television shows, drinking, and sex. I try to tell them about Jesus Christ, and it’s not even that they have questions or don’t understand, it’s that they just don’t care. I’m gripped with the hopelessness of the human condition. There is very little I can do. Only when the Holy Spirit grabs someone, does anything change; Or when someone is sufficiently defeated to offer a surrender, and come to God in earnest humble seeking.
The noise is incredible. I find myself captured by it too so often, by the screens, the phone screen, the laptop screen, and noise of the radio, the music, the videos, and the noise of endless goings on and news and stories and cinema. I make war for my prayer life, for quiet time with God, but I find myself losing that war. I make war against sin, and I find myself with surprising victories at times, but so often still trapped in certain patterns, whether it’s food, or coffee, or cleaning or overspending.
Thankfully, God breaks every chain. It happens, over time. But I find myself frustrated, with the pain. Often the agonizing, drizzling pain over a single day. The anxiety, the worry, the anger that grips me at times. It seems so unmanageable at times, like I might just explode. Of course this is nothing new. This is not surprising. Such is mentioned time and again in the Bible. Elijah found himself deeply discouraged after his greatest victory. Job, with good reason, found himself deeply impacted by suffering. Jonah fell into despondency and anger. Moses doubted his own abilities. Gideon had little faith. Thomas doubted. Peter denied his friend. Jesus wept.
There is no doubt that suffering is part of life, and the reaction against suffering is pain, sadness, depression, doubt, fear, and agony.
That was the one thing that cheered me up a bit over the past few days. I remembered that Jesus Christ, my own God, is intimately acquainted with suffering. Jesus suffered. He cried out to his Father in heaven. He wept over so many people not being able to hear his message. He felt frustrated as many of his followers refused to follow him anymore, because his teaching seemed too hard. He wept over the death of a friend. He wept watching his friends’ friends crumbling in grief. Jesus was nailed to a cross, to die slowly. Perhaps nearly as bad as dying slowly, was the mental trauma of such a death. He was mocked, ridiculed, when he knew deep down that he had never done anything wrong. Not even a little. He was laughed at. He was shamed.
In the past, when I found myself in a hospital bed, or in jail, or sitting before a judge… it wasn’t always the ordeal that was the worst part. The worst part was how people looked at you, how people treated you. They looked you in the eyes angry, ashamed, and their eyes said: “you are bad. you are wrong. you are evil.” When children are abused early in life, according to psychology, the worst part is being treated like an object, instead of a person. And that’s how they looked at Jesus. They treated him like a demon, a monster, and condemned him, hung him up, and spit on him as he died slowly.
The point of this description is to emphasize one point: Jesus understands when I suffer, when I feel lost and alone and isolated, and he understands when you feel depression and despair. He knows. He understands. And he cares.
Understanding that my God knows exactly what I’m going through, and “walked the walk” as it were, I can then begin to see that the problem is not with God, the problem is with my perspective. It’s easy for people to lose perspective in this world. It happens to me all the time. I’m a fallible human, it just happens.
How did Jesus confront his accusers? He asked them questions. In so doing, he opened them up within their own thinking and helped them to see the truth from a new perspective.
I was “advised” by a dear friend, watching me bitterly peruse in my own morass, to take a new perspective. She said “Justin, stop it and write a gratitude list. Now!” And I did. Would you like to see it? I knew you would.
So I asked myself: “What do you have to be grateful for?”
I came up with:
I’m grateful for the people who encourage me at 11 am on Tuesdays.
I’m grateful for bottled water.
I’m grateful for a warm house to live in, thank you Father.
I’m grateful for 2 years of recovery!
I’m grateful for my friend Chelsey.
I’m grateful for my job at the Salvation Army.
I’m grateful for my church that I go to.
I’m grateful for my heavenly Dad.
I’m grateful for Jesus Christ.
I’m grateful for the people at the shelter that I get to help.
I’m grateful for 89Q.
I’m grateful for my home group.
I’m grateful for almond milk.
I’m grateful for my mom and sister.
I’m grateful for the grace of God.
Most of us, all of us, have a lot to be grateful for. When I start to focus on the negatives, the corruption, the lost, the defeated, and the hopeless then I need to find a new perspective. Jesus understands my isolation and depression. But Jesus invites me to be grateful in him and his completed work. Jesus reminds me to be filled with all joy despite trials and persecution, and suffering.
In closing, Colossians 3:15-17 (ESV) says “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
(underline added for emphasis)