Auto Mechanics in Hell (Ecclesiastes 9:11–18)

You can watch today’s Daily Word by clicking on the image below. But first, please read Ecclesiastes 9:11-18.

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One of the best books in my library is a little collection of proverbs by Peter Kreeft entitled A Turn of the Clock. Do you want some samples? Under the title, “The New Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God,” Kreeft writes: “If there’s a Big Bang, there must be a Big Banger.” Then there’s this one, under the heading, “The World’s Worst Smell”: “Bodies stink after they die; dead souls, before.” (Think about that!) Or how about this contrast between heaven and hell: “Hell is an unending church service without God. Heaven is God without a church service.”

The first proverb in Kreeft’s book—and the one that ties in to today’s devotional—says this, “All proverbs are half-truths—including this one.” Now, in my opinion, that pretty much sums up the tentative nature of many proverbs. Sometimes—in certain situations—they’re applicable. In others, not so much. After all, which is truer, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” or “Out of sight, out of mind”? The fact is, both are true, depending on the circumstances.

In Ecclesiastes 9:11–18, the Preacher draws some conclusions that seem to contradict other portions of Scripture. He writes, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” Obviously, this is all too often true. The best people do not experience the best in life. Sometimes, the wise are poor while fools are wealthy, or the just imprisoned while their unjust wardens roam free. This is a simple variation on the problem of evil, that we do not get what we deserve but are instead the victims of time and chance.

And yet, other Scriptures indicate that a wise man will be rewarded for his wisdom in this life, that he will get the rewards he has worked for: “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4). According to Psalm 1.3, the one who meditates day and night on God’s Law is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Jesus himself articulated this principle in Matthew 6.33, when he said, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” In context, “all these things” refer to what we eat, drink, and wear—to our material possessions in other words.

So which principle is truer? That wisdom has no rewards because life is filled with time and chance, or that wisdom has its reward because life is directed by God toward justice? Well, both are equally true, but along different horizons. Over the near horizon, the wise may see time and chance rob them of their just deserts. But over the long horizon, God will reward the wise for their righteous behavior. In the Christian religion, it is an article of faith that justice will be done, whether now or eventually. That is why the Preacher counsels wisdom despite his admission that it does not always pay off in the short term: “wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.”

One more from Kreeft: “In hell the auto mechanics have to drive the cars they ‘fixed’ on earth.” I cannot imagine a more truthful proverb, viewed over the long horizon, of course.


Christian Hedonism (Ecclesiastes 9:7–10)

You can watch today’s Daily Word by clicking on the image below. But first, please read Ecclesiastes 9:7–10.

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God filled this world with many pleasures; it is your religious duty to enjoy them.

Now, I suppose that such an idea strikes some of you as slightly off kilter, as the kind of thing a Christian ought not to say. In 1 John 2:16 we read, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” Aren’t we supposed to avoid worldly pleasures?

Yes and no.

Yes, we ought to avoid pleasures that cause us to love anything more than God, whether they are food, drink, sex, or whatever. Pleasure becomes worldly when it leads us to violate the first and second greatest commandments: Love God, and love neighbor as self (Mark 12:28–34).

But no, avoiding worldly pleasures does not mean avoiding the pleasures that are present in the world. Remember, God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, and when had done so, he pronounced all of them “good” (Genesis 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) or “very good” (1:30). Indeed, he “blessed” the first man and woman in precisely the one area that so many Christians associate with worldly pleasures, namely, their sexuality (1:28).

A Christian may take pleasure in everything present in God’s world, provided that he or she does so in the way God intended that pleasure to be experienced. The Preacher, in Ecclesiastes 9:7–10, counsels you to “eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart.” Not only so, but he goes on to say, “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life.” You can eat and drink, as long as you do not become gluttonous. And you can enjoy sex—you ought to enjoy sex!—as long as it is with your spouse. All these pleasures are part of God’s will for you in this present age: “God has already approved what you do” and “this is your portion in life.”

But, of course, there are pleasures and then there are pleasures. The pleasures of this world are wonderful, but a better world is coming. As C. S. Lewis wrote in his essay, “The Weight of Glory”:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Properly speaking, then, every Christian is—and ought to be—a hedonist, both in this life and in the life to come.

Ask the Super about the Proposed Consolidation of AGTS, CBC, and Evangel

Yesterday, my boss (Jim Bradford) interviewed my dad (George O. Wood) about the proposed consolidation of the Assemblies of God’s national residential schools: Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Central Bible College, and Evangel University.

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Dr. George O. Wood’s Opening Address at World AG Congress in Chennai, India

My dad gave the opening address at the World Assemblies of God Congress in Chennai, India. Here’s the video of the entire opening ceremony. Dad’s message begins at 58:30. The message was simultaneously translated into Tamil.

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What Counts? (Galatians 5:6)

I spoke at chapel this morning on Galatians 5:6: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” The title of my sermon was “What Counts?”

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In the Hands of God (Ecclesiastes 9:1–6)

Before you watch or read today’s Daily Word, please read Ecclesiastes 9:1–6.

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Ecclesiastes 9:1–6 teaches that your life is in the hands of God.

Obviously, in a general sense, everyone’s life is in God’s hands. He is the Creator of “the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), and therefore everything in them belongs to him (Psalm 24:1). He is the Provider of the needs of all people. As Jesus said, “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). God also is the Savior, who offers divine forgiveness to all, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And finally, he is the Judge of all, for we “will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).

And yet, the Preacher is not speaking in a general sense when he says that your life is in God’s hands. He is speaking instead of the specific providence God exercises on behalf of the godly when he works all things together for their good (Romans 8:28). It is only “the righteous and the wise and their deeds” who are God’s hands in this specific sense. Only the children of the Heavenly Father can know God’s special care for them, even though God desires good to come to all people.

Now, the truth that your life is in God’s hand should provide great comfort to you for several reasons. First, it should comfort you because in this life, you will experience “love and hate” from other people. Whether others treat you good or bad, with affection or antagonism, God is working for your good.

Second, it should comfort you because death is a universal human constant. Notice that the Preacher emphasizes this common fate through repetition of contrasting characteristics. Death comes to righteous and wicked, good and evil, clean and unclean, religious and irreligious, oath-takers and oath breakers. “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all.” Looking upon his fate, the wicked man determines to fill his heart with evil. “If death befalls both good and bad, why be good?” he asks. The wise person knows better. There is more to life than just what happens “under the sun.” God will reward in eternity those who do what is right in this life, and punish those who do wrong without repentance (Romans 2:6–11).

Third, God’s special providence for the godly should strengthen you to live well in the present. As the Preacher whimsically states the matter, “a living dog is better than a dead lion.” The word comfort derives from Latin, where it originally meant “with strength.” God’s comfort of the godly is not a mere palliative, something to lessen your pain. It is a stimulant, which awakens you to God’s care for you and energizes your good deeds on his behalf. Precisely because death is so tragic—rendering your actions in this life moot, to a certain degree—you ought to live your life with divine purpose and energy.

You live life “under the sun,” where death prevails. But your life is in the hands of One who lives “above the sun.” So, knowing that God cares for you, live well!

Joy Is a Deliberate Choice (Ecclesiastes 8:14–17)

Before you watch or read today’s Daily Word, read Ecclesiastes 8.14–17.

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In Ecclesiastes 8.14–17, the Preacher identifies two realities that we all experience on the journey through life: injustice and ignorance. Both are obstacles in our path, and both have the power to turn us aside from the road to heaven, if we let them. But there is a way through the obstacles, the Preacher tells us; it is the way of joy as a deliberate choice.

Consider our experience of injustice. Long ago, Aristotle defined justice as treating equals equally and unequals unequally in proportion to their relevant differences. Justice, in other words, is fair; it gives people the rewards due them.

Unfortunately, we often see people receiving rewards not due them, of equals being treated unequally and unequals equally. Thieves get rich off stolen money, for example, while the hardworking lose the wealth they have spent a lifetime saving due to theft. As the Preacher puts it, “there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous.” Injustice happens; it cannot be avoided, and we must choose how to respond when we see it around us.

Ignorance happens too. Whereas injustice occurs because bad people choose to do bad things, ignorance happens because human beings are finite creatures whose intellectual limits are part of their nature. Had Adam and Eve never sinned, it is safe to say, injustice never would have touched the world. But human beings still would have been ignorant; it is simply part of who we are.

So, the Preacher writes, “man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.” Notice the negative verbs: cannot and will not. There are some things we will never know because we cannot know them. They are too great for our comprehension. We must choose how to respond to our ignorance.

The Preacher tells us that our best course of action is to deliberately choose joy in the face of both injustice and ignorance. “And I commend joy,” the Preacher writes, “for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.”

The Preacher is not commending hedonism in place of justice or wisdom, by the way. As I pointed out in yesterday’s devotional, the Preacher believes that God is just, so we ought to act justly too. But in addition to justice, the Preacher advocates joy, an intentional optimism that seeks out the pleasures God built in creation, wherever they may legitimately be found. In our struggle for justice, we should never become dour, unhappy people. God did not make us that way.

Nor did he create us to be unhappy with our ignorance. What we can learn, we should learn. But when we bump up against the limits of human knowledge, we should be humble enough to admit that we are but God’s little creatures and find happiness in that discovery.

Injustice happens. So does ignorance. Choose joy anyway.