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Faith column: The conclusion of the matter

On the surface, Ecclesiastes seems really depressing, concluding that life under the sun is hevel: a vain meaninglessness that, like a wisp of steam or smoke, you can see and feel, but never actually get a grip on.

Chad Werkhoven
Chad Werkhoven
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WORTHINGTON — My grandfather was born in the 19th century. For those who will try to do the math attempting to figure out how old that makes me, know that he settled down and started his family quite late in life.

He lived nearly a full century, so he certainly saw a massive amount of change in his lifetime.

He tended pack animals for the Army Cavalry in WWI. Now our ability to blow things up involves laser guided missiles.

His immigration to America involved an arduous voyage across the Atlantic. Now the trip is made by stuffing people into a cramped aluminum tube 30,000 feet in the sky.

Communication then involved thoughtfully worded letters that took weeks to arrive. Now hot takes are splashed on Twitter within seconds.

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I guess not all progress is improvement.

Near the end of his life, his family sat him down to record the momentous things he’d seen and experienced. The question was asked: What’s the most amazing development he’d seen over nine decades?

They waited with baited breath for his reply. Would it be electricity, man walking on the moon or the amazing developments in medicine? Nope.

The profoundly simple answer from the old Dutchman was this: tires. The humble radial. The four rubber orbs that reliably transport you from point A to B.

It used to be, back in the day, that a trip from Worthington to Wilmont would involve a pit stop in Reading to change out a flat tire. Even the most brougham cars (you know you’re old if you ever had a luxurious GM car with that word emblazoned on it) had a spare tire prominently strapped to the outside for much of the 20th century.

When was the last time you even thought about your tires? Now we’re upset if they don't last at least 60,000 miles. My grandfather was right: improved tire technology massively enhanced our freedom to travel.

We’ve been reading through the book of Ecclesiastes these last couple of weeks in our church’s Bible reading plan. It contains the teachings of the Preacher, a sage modeled after King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live.

On the surface, Ecclesiastes seems really depressing, concluding that life under the sun is hevel: a vain meaninglessness that, like a wisp of steam or smoke, you can see and feel, but never actually get a grip on.

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Yet the Preacher teaches two important lessons: He points us forward to life above the sun for those who’ve been raised up in Christ; and that even through the recurring frustrations of life, you must learn to slow down to recognize and enjoy life’s good things when you have them.

In the final passage, the narrator sums up the Preacher’s teaching. Like my uncles and aunts waiting for my Grandfather’s assessment of the greatest accomplishment he witnessed, we wait for the Preacher’s conclusion. After so much wisdom, what is the most profound?

Would it be something akin to the golden rule, a call for unbridled toleration, or maybe a witty meme from the Office? Nope.

The simple key to fulfillment in this life comes in Ecclesiastes 12:13: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Fearing God doesn’t mean being terrified of Him, though that’s a component of it. It means living with a realization that God is holy and infinite, while we are sinful and limited.

Keeping God’s commands certainly includes the 10 famous ones, but more importantly it means following God’s saving command to believe in His Son and love one another (1 John 3:23).

Life’s a hot mess because we live it in a world broken under the curse of our sin. The Bible doesn’t gloss over this. Rather it points you from the emptiness of life under the sun to new life in Jesus Christ.

You can spend this life chasing after the wind, which you’ll never catch, or you can find true enjoyment regardless of your circumstances by fearing God and keeping His commands.

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Rev. Chad Werkhoven pastors Worthington Christian Reformed Church. You can read or listen along with their daily Bible reading plan at wgtncrc.org/bible.

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