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.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.