blessedly slowing down to gather one’s thoughts (and more)

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Ecclesiastes is one of those books of Scripture which has always fascinated me, but also on which I struggle to get a handle on. The writer, mostly “the Teacher”- Qoheleth, takes us through a whirlwind of life experiences “under the sun,” with the conclusion that in the end none of it really satisfies. The book makes it clear that we should give ourselves fully to whatever our lot is, and enjoy the simple gifts of God. With the conclusion in the end that when all has been considered we’re to fear God and keep God’s commandments, with the realization that we will be held accountable for the choices we make.

All of us live in experience, even when we’re trying to understand Scripture texts. If we approach that correctly, it seems to me that it all has to do with life, yes life “under the sun” as we read in Ecclesiastes, as well as life in the context of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, present now, and to be consummated into its fullness on the renewed heaven and earth in the life to come. To want to escape from experience is not a good place to be. Instead we need by God’s grace to begin to get a grip on reality, on the true basics, we might even say basic basics. And set ourselves to live in that.

Fearing God is perhaps the most basic starting point of all. It’s simply the realization that God is the “Source of All Being,” the “Eternal Word,” and “Holy Spirit.”* We owe our existence and everything else that is good to God. And with that privilege to us humans indeed comes responsibility.

Jesus fulfills what none of us can accomplish ourselves, so that we can slow down, and blessedly let God catch up with our feverish, often misdirected steps. So that we might gather our thoughts so that we can begin to settle down on what is most important and what will bring us life. Out of the whirlwinds of the world and of our own making. Into the grace and peace of God. In and through Jesus.

*From morning and evening offices in Voices Together hymnal. 

perhaps the most basic gift God has given us

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

Matthew 16:21-28

There is surely nothing more basic God has given to us than our very selves, our existence. It includes everything about us, both our physical selves (which when you think about it, really includes all we are) and our inward selves, that which in a sense transcends the physical. Yet beyond the Greek duality, the Hebrew thought from Scripture is that our true selves includes our bodies, the physical, really every part of us. The NIV words “life” and “soul” are translations of the same Greek word, ψυχή, reflecting the different meanings possible within that one word.

Jesus is telling us something paradoxical here. If we are willing to give up our lives for him, then we’ll keep our lives. But if we’re trying to save our lives, then we’ll lose them (a helpful NET footnote). Because of this most basic gift from God, we can enjoy the creation and new creation with the Triune God at the center, loving God and loving our neighbor. We are given a special gift, ourselves. We’re paradoxically not to save that gift for ourselves, but spend it for others. We can do that in the way God intends only in the same way Jesus did it. With the help of the Spirit of God, we live that way. When we do that we find what not only will last beyond this life, but will fit well in the present, even if we’re misfits to many in doing so. In and through Jesus.