God's Ways are Inscrutable

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Because God's ways are inscrutable, we must fear God.

Taylor Bradley Ryan Laughlin CM340 November 7, 2019 God’s Ways are Inscrutable Ecclesiastes 8:10-17 [FCF] (Finite): We want to understand God’s ways [Big Idea]: Because God’s ways are inscrutable, we must cultivate the fear of God and joy in His good gifts. • Even when punishment is delayed • Even when justice is inverted • Even when understanding is unreachable Intro Two weeks ago, after receiving the worst news, I sat in my office on a Saturday morning and wept. Very close friends lost their daughter during childbirth. As I sat there sobbing, I thought, why God? Why would you take her from them like this? I thought I don’t understand your ways, and I don’t understand your plan. Why God, why? But that's really the wrong question, for it cannot be answered. Even if God were to try to explain his plans to us beyond what he has revealed in scripture, it would be too much. It would break our puny minds, our finite, grossly limited minds. The preacher in Ecclesiastes addresses this very issue in our text today. You see, he too sought to understand the ways of God, he too puzzled over the mystery that is this life. Let's read the text together from Ecclesiastes 8:10-17 and see what the end of all the preachers seeking was. Read Eccl. 8:10-17 Lets Pray [Transition to main points] Ecclesiastes is included in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament alongside Psalms, Job, Proverbs, and Song of Songs. Whereas Proverbs shows us what life is generally like, books like Job and Ecclesiastes are included to show us that life often doesn’t go that way. Ecclesiastes can sound sort of pessimistic about life, but as we will see today the tone is one of cautious optimism. Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes in his old age. He refers to himself throughout Ecclesiastes as the Preacher. It may be that these were a collection of sermons. What the preacher wants us to understand today is that Because God’s works are inscrutable, we must cultivate the fear God and joy in His good gifts. We do this Even when punishment is delayed, Even when justice is inverted, and Even when understanding is unreachable. [Point 1] Even when punishment is delayed Look with me again at v. 10. Now, this verse is difficult to understand, but essentially the Preacher is lamenting the fact that the wicked received a burial—which was an honor. Even after they are dead, in the city where they worked their wicked deeds, where they feigned obedience by even going to the temple, they are still honored. This the preacher says is vanity. We need to look a little closer at what the preacher means by vanity because, in our culture, the word means something slightly different than the preacher has in mind. Our word for vanity means of self-pride. Someone vain thinks too much about themselves. They are self-important. But the word translated as vanity means literally breath or vapor. It has the idea of something fleeting, something elusive, something that you cannot grasp with your hands. The preacher shows that the way the wicked go about in this world, persisting in wickedness until death and the even being honored after death, this is vanity.But it gets worse. Because as people see that the wicked are not punished they too begin to engage in wicked behavior. The preacher in v. 11 notices that because Justice is delayed people are inclined to evil. There's no fear. The psalmist captures this beautifully in a lament over the delayed justice of the wicked in Psalm 10: Psalm 10 But the preacher goes on. Although he sees that justice is delayed look in v. 12, he knows that it is better for the person who fears God. In the ancient world, long life was a sign of God's blessing so its confusing when the wicked live to old age. But the preacher knows that despite what he sees with his eyes, despite what might seem like normal—it is, in fact, better for those who fear God. Then look at v. 13. What's going on here, it seems that he is contradicting himself. First he says that the sinner, despite his wicked deeds prolongs his life, but then he says the wicked who do not fear God will not prolong his life. Is the preacher senile, has he forgotten what he just wrote? These contradictions are what make Ecclesiastes such a difficult book to interpret. We want concrete black and white answers from scripture--and on matters of Salvation scripture is clear, scripture is black and white. But on a myriad of other issues, like who I should marry, what vocation should I choose, where should we live, what church should I go to, what seminary, and on and on. For all those things scripture does not mandate one way or another, but rather we must use wisdom.   The preacher says that there are two things that he knows to be true. One he knows experientially, that justice is delayed, which often leads to a proliferation of sin in society. The second is that God will bring his justice in his timing and that when he does it is better for those who fear God. With our sense it seems these are contradictory—but that is often because we have a man-centered view of the world, and time, and even justice. So what do you do when you don't have access to the reason why? You cannot get behind God and know his mind, or his reasons for all his works, what do you do? The preacher says that amid these incongruities of life, the paradox and mystery of why, even when it doesn't make sense you fear God. Application The world says that the Christian sexual ethic is outdated. It says, "look, everyone has premarital sex; in fact everyone just has sex, with whomever, whenever. God doesn't care what you do with your body." As our culture has become more and more post-Christian, it has become more and more culturally acceptable to engage in what scripture calls sexual immorality largely because there is no fear of punishment. No one will even bat an eye. Now a man finds that he no longer feels comfortable in his body, so he goes to the doctor and creates a new identity for himself--we don't even blush anymore. These things are not unseemly and therefore more and more engage in wicked behavior without fear. But you Christian are called to fear God. Fearing God is one of those wonderful expressions in scripture that is so pregnant with meaning. Fearing God is the OT's expression of Faith. To fear God means to be loyal to him alone, and be faithful to the covenant he has made with us. Fearing God is not dreading God; it is not being in horror of God, rather it is a reverence and awe that God is Holy, which leads to obedience of his will. What does it mean to fear God? It means essentially an attitude of awe that leads to worship, all which recognizes that God is the LORD and we are not, therefore as Lord God is to be obeyed. The fear of God is the wedding of worship and ethics in the Christians life. Do we join the world in there diminishing of the biblical sexual ethic? Even though it seems like we could get away with it? No, we fear God, because the person who fears God prolongs their life. Along with this comes a recognition that this life is a vapor; it is here for a moment and then gone. Sometimes the righteous are buffeted in this life, and their life doesn't seem to be prolonged, or they seem to undergo more hardships than most. But we must never lose sight of this fact that one day the Lord will come, not in humiliation—born as a babe, helpless—but as a conquering king. Those who have not bowed the knee to him will be forced to bow. And he will separate the wicked from the righteous, the sheep from the goats. When Christ comes again he will bring justice with him, and the wicked will be judged before the throne of perfect justice. Then it will be seen that truly it was better to have been with those who feared the Lord than with the wicked. [Transition to Point 2] Because God’s ways are inscrutable, we must fear God even when punishment is delayed But the preacher goes on... [Point 2] Even When Justice is Inverted Look with me at v. 14. The preacher begins and ends this verse with vanity, which as we talked about earlier is difficult to understand translated as vanity. Here we might take vanity to mean a mystery, or an enigma—something past finding out. What the preacher expresses is another thing that regularly happens, which baffles him. He says not only is justice delayed, in that the wicked seem to get away with their evil deeds. But sometimes justice is downright inverted. The wicked receive what the righteous deserve, and vice versa. We may not like that God delays justice, but when justice is perverted it makes our blood boil. When you hear of some politician or famous person getting away with some crime, that were it not for their money and influence would have got them in big trouble it makes us angry. We want justice, we want it now, and we want it to go to the right people. We feel angry and frustrated when we see the righteous getting what the wicked deserve, which is most likely death. Why do the good die young? While the wicked seem to go on forever? Again, and this is important for us to notice, the preacher does not try to come up with an answer to why this might be. We so desperately want answers that sometimes we rush to them without thinking through, and maybe like Jobs friends there orthodox—but completely wrong. We don’t want to do that. The preacher goes somewhere else, somewhere he has already alluded to four other times in 2:24, 3:12-13, 22; 5:18. The preacher commends joy. Commentators call these the carpe diem sections because the preacher commends an enjoyment of life and enjoyment of all the gifts that God has given us. Illustration   When I hear the words carpe diem I am reminded of a Robin Williams movie The Dead Poets Society. There is a scene where Professor Keating played by Robin Williams begins his first class. There is a lot of rumors about who this new professor of humanities is. Williams walks through the class and out the door whistling, he beckons the class to follow. They move into the large open room, with pictures and trophies of previous classes in glass cases around them. He then has one of the students read the opening lines of a poem by Robert Herrick: Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old time is still a-flying; And this same flower that smiles today Tomorrow will be dying. Mr. Keating then asks the students have they heard of carpe diem, Seize the day. Then he gathers closer to the pictures of old students, those long dead. He beckons them to lean in as the camera pans across the black and white faces of students from the past. Keating whispers from behind the group "carpe diem, seize the day, make your lives extraordinary." Keating wants these bored, passive, boys to live life with gusto, to seize it with purpose, and passion, instead of meandering through life with sole purpose of consumption as our culture so often devolves into. Let me ask you this: what should you do if you can't understand the ways of God in the world? What if you can't understand why the wicked prolong their days, and even sometimes receive the reward of the righteous? What if justice is delayed and inverted, what do you do?   Humanity has been trying to answer this question since the dawn of time. Numerous philosophies and religions have been developed to try to answer these questions — all seeking the "good life" the life of human flourishing. The preacher was looking too. But he is looking within the framework of the covenant people of God. You could say he is looking for the good life in the framework of the church. He finds that the way through the vapor, the mysteriousness of life, the way through a world that doesn't work the way it is supposed to is joy. He commends joy.   Look at v. 15. You see despite the incongruities of life, despite the lack of justice, in this poor fallen world—God still gives good gifts to his children. He gives the gift of food. My family and I love watching cooking shows. One called Chopped, the contestants get a basket of random ingredients, and they have to make a dish that tastes good, looks good, and uses all the ingredients in the basket. I am constantly amazed by their creativity. From these baskets they produce culinary marvels that look so good to eat. God didn’t just give us one type of food. He could have. Many animals don’t have a very wide variety of food that they eat, but we do. Food is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Not to mention drink… I’m from the Pacific Northwest. Portland OR is home to over 100 different breweries. There are it seems infinite varieties of different beers that can be made using different hops and different grains.   Now the preacher has already cautioned the use of pleasure. In chapter 2 he warns of the vanity of pursuing pleasure as an end. If you make the gifts your end, your purpose, they will be joyless; they will never satisfy. But if you receive them, as gifts from God—then they can be enjoyed. And it is when we receive them, knowing they come from God, that will help us not to abuse them. For every good gift God has given can be abused.   The preacher commends joy. Joy is more than a feeling, it is that, but it is a state of being in the world. Joy is a gift of God and a fruit of the Spirit. So the Christian has God as the object of, and the giver of Joy. It comes from him and is found in him. We have joy and can enjoy God's good gifts because we have been reconciled to God because there is now no condemnation. Because in Christ we are new creatures. Which is why even in the face of uncertainty, even amid injustice, even through suffering, we can enjoy the good gifts God gives us.   Application  So what should you do if you can't understand the ways of God in the world? What if you can't understand why the wicked prolong their days, and even sometimes receive the reward of the righteous? What if justice is delayed and inverted, what do you do? You enjoy the gifts God has given you. One of the ways you do this is through thanksgiving. I would encourage you to sit down and think of all the ways that God has blessed you physically, apart from spiritual blessings. Think of all the gifts he has given you that you have taken for granted. Think of running water, of indoor plumbing. Think of heat in winter and AC in summer. Think of refrigeration and freezers. Think of the internet, yes even the internet is a gift (although you might have to look hard to see it). So many good gifts God has given us, and that’s just stuff, just food, and drink—what about the good we find in relationships. The love between a husband and wife, between parents and children. What of the joy of seeing your son hit his first baseball or your daughter’s first dance recital. God has given us these things the preacher says to help us endure the toil of the life God gives us.   So enjoy them. Cook a good meal, and invite friends over to enjoy it with them. Sit by the fire with a nice glass of merlot, and delight in the wife or husband God gave you. These are foretastes of the joy that is to come. When in glory, every tear is wiped away, and there is no more sorrow. When every punishment is not delayed, and when inverted justice is put right. We have a foretaste of that glory now in the good gifts God gives us. We have a foretaste of that now in the supper we celebrate each Lord’s day. Where Jesus gives us his body for food, and his blood for true drink—there we are nourished, and our faith is fed—there we taste true joy, found in our union with Christ. Because God’s ways are inscrutable, we must cultivate joy in the gifts that he gives. Point 3 (Conclusion) Even when understanding is unreachable The Preacher closes out this section with a warning, an auto-biographical warning. In v. 16, he says that he tried to understand God's works. He set his mind to try to figure out the mysteries of God's providence. In the end he found that it is futile. The way of wisdom is not knowing the why of God's ways. The way of wisdom is looking at the world through the eyes of faith. Because in the end God's delay of punishment meant the salvation of the world. Where would we be if God did not determine to save us from the helpless condition brought upon us by our first parents fall into sin? We would still be in our sins and transgressions. But because in the wisdom of God, God determined to use the greatest act of inverted justice to reconcile us to him. We grow impatient when we see injustice in the world, but God the Son became man and never committed one act of unrighteousness, one act of injustice, he never sinned or disobeyed his father, not once. He deserved to be honored as the greatest man that ever lived. But he wasn't. He was mocked and scorned, and punished as if he was wicked, and then crucified a bloody painful death. But that wasn't the worse—the worst of it was he endured the full weight of God's wrath against the sins of all of the elect. He became our substitute so that we could become the righteousness of God. While God's ways are unreachable through all man's searching. The preacher calls us to rest in this: God is God, and we are not. Therefore we must fear God and enjoy the gifts he gives. We cannot get behind God and peer over his shoulder and understand his ways. As Isaiah says in 55:8-9: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. And we rest in the fact that one day all things will be made new. That God "has fixed a day on which to judge the world in righteousness by a man he has appointed" (Acts 17:31), namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. So rest in him, Fear God, and enjoy the gifts he has given you. Amen Lets Pray
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