Ecclesiastesby Philip E. Satterthwaite
Life is delightful, but brief. You'll be dead a long time.
Enjoy life. Listen to your heart. If you see something, go for it.
Remember that God will judge everything you do. Avoid life's dead ends.
If you were asked to address young Christians on ″Your Priorities in Life″, would those be your main points? They are the Teacher's main points in today's passage. But how do the themes of enjoying life and accountability to God fit together?
Bearing in mind earlier chapters, the Teacher is not encouraging us to indulge absolutely any desire (see Ecclesiastes 2:1-11), or to be escapist (see 7:1-6). There are paths in life that bring ″anxiety″ and ″troubles″ (11:10), for example, over-reliance on one's own wisdom (1:13-18) or a wrong attitude to wealth (5:10-17). These are paths to be avoided. Still, today's text clearly encourages us to seek out what gives us pleasure. This is not irresponsible teaching: it can be read, among other things, as advice to identify our talents and develop them in God's service. After all, when we find our true calling, it is likely to be something we enjoy doing, not something that makes us grit our teeth! How does the Teacher conceive of God's judgment? At points, he suggests that some patterns of behaviour bring about their own judgments (4:7-8; 5:13-17). But he knows that this is not the whole story: justice is not always done in this life (8:14). Logically, then, the ″judgment″ of 11:9 must take place after death. This seems to be the direction in which the Teacher's thought is going, though, characteristically, this does not become clear till the end of the book. For over ten chapters, the Teacher confronts us with life's apparent injustices and enigmas, and only then reveals key elements in his thinking, which make sense of it all: human accountability to God; judgment after death. These are the notes on which the book will end (12:14). This, the Teacher finally tells us, is a secure basis for understanding the world.
If we are accountable to God, then should we live cautiously? Should we keep our enjoyment within strict bounds, adopting the principle that if it brings us pleasure, it can't be good for us? But caution has its dangers too. Is it possible that on judgment day God will reproach some of us for our timidity, for not having trusted Him and lived life to the full? There are many legitimate and satisfying ways of finding joy in God's world. The Teacher has touched on some of them in earlier chapters: fulfilling work (2:24; 3:13; 5:18), particularly work done in partnership with others (4:9-12); food, drink, marriage, and good company (8:15; 9:7-9). More generally, why should we Christians not be known as bold and happy people who enjoy life? Is this not part of our gospel witness (see Philippians 4:8, 12)?
Is it a priority for you to enjoy the good things that God brings into your life-deliberately, reverently, and thankfully? What difference would it make to your discipleship and witness if you made this your practice?
Today's study suggests that there are two errors we can make concerning God's judgment: we can fail to acknowledge that we are accountable to God; but we can also be so obsessed with thoughts of judgment that we are afraid to take any risks or to enjoy what God gives us to enjoy. What is a healthy way of thinking about God's judgment?