Was it wise to spend nearly a whole Sunday school quarter focused on pain, suffering and meaninglessness? Apparently so, if success can be measured by the participants’ enthusiasm each Sunday.
Am I correct in perceiving a tendency exists to gravitate toward the positive, uplifting and empowering? If this be the case why would anyone even consider wallowing for an extended time in such things as human suffering? You are probably already ahead of me in this article.
Our class focused upon the wisdom literature within the Old Testament. While it is true that revering the Lord is the start of wisdom, a good definition provides the first step in understanding what wisdom is. Wisdom involves knowing how to live well. As such, it differs from education and intelligence. Highly educated and intelligent people can be foolish. On the other hand, simple people can be extremely wise. The Old Testament wisdom literature points the way.
We had time to step through the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, at least their major points. What we discovered was that Job carries so much more meaning for us than its typical usage. When things are difficult, do not people derive a small amount of comfort by saying, “Well, at least I’m doing better than Job!”
Furthermore, we were able to find in Ecclesiastes, not a depressing pessimism that would drive us to shrivel up in some dark room. Rather, we were empowered to make the choice to live in meaningful ways without needing to learn important painful lessons for ourselves.
My mother used to say, “Those who insist upon learning from the school of experience will be too old to do anything upon their graduation.” For those who have ears to hear, Ecclesiastes provides us the opportunity to “go to school” on the author’s quest to find ultimate meaning under the sun.
To paraphrase his answer, if we try to build our lives upon achievements, legacies, pleasure or any other created source we are building sandcastles. Every Sunday school child knows a song about building houses and sand. Hence we don’t have to waste decades or even a lifetime to discover how death, time, the unknown future and endless cycles render all earth-anchored meaning futile.
We can choose to enjoy what God provides, without making those blessings our reason for living. Furthermore, we can determine to live for the One whose work endures forever thus transcending the temporary and ephemeral.
As for Job we watched the interplay of grown men debating how our world works as it relates to suffering. As their drama unfolded, we heard echoes of our own thinking about why people suffer. Common viewpoints were exposed as being misguided. However, one of the biggest discoveries involved the realization that when we encounter suffering most of us do not ask the most important question.
Instead of focusing upon “Why am I suffering?”, the primary question should be, “Will I honor God in my suffering?” In other words, is Satan right that our service to God is motivated by nothing more than self-centeredness? Do we view God as our ticket to a good life? Or will we insist upon continuing to serve God because God is worthy?
To live a successful life, we would do well to have a game plan for encountering pain and suffering. It would also be helpful to know how to live a meaningful life during our few days under the sun.
Much more can be gleaned from the wisdom literature. These are just a few of the valuable nuggets we mined. May you live with wisdom. It all starts with revering the God who is there.