This is the good old summertime! We’ve come at long last to the good days—after six months of winter in—Michigan. These are the days of showers and sunshine, growth and harvest of crops, days of gratifying warmth that cheers the body. These are the days of glorious rioting colors that rouse the soul into a spiral of exuberant joy. Now if ever, there are perfect days! They are the days to revel in one’s work on the land and to enjoy the creation of God in earth and sky. The cherries are ripe in Traverse City, and the grain is ripe through all of the golden Middle West and as far as Eastern Washington. At the same time the man that furnishes our tables with luscious vegetables is busy picking sweet corn and beans and tomatoes. The whole earth is full of happiness—is filled with God’s glory as Creator. What a time to be alive, what a joy to be alive! Our hearts are dancing with exuberance of joy to see the loveliness of the created world, and its variegated splendor revealing the wisdom of an omniscient creator.
Our views of the appreciation of life will no doubt correspond with our total view of the meaning of life. All men are constantly engaged—unbelievers as well as believers—trying to give themselves an account or life. They are struggling to come to consciousness on this matter.
There are, of course, times that we simply drift along, that we seem to be coasting, without asking ourselves the deep questions of life: “why am I here? what am I living for? what is the guiding star of my existence? what is it worth, all this toiling and moiling from morn till evening?”
We Calvinists claim to have a theoretic answer to these questions. But in practice no easy answer exists. Are we living for our work? Or is happiness the goal of our existence? So often we seem to be at cross purposes between practice and theory and we are not content to have it so.
Like every other problem the basic solution must be sought in him who is the truth, the way and the life. For Christ is not merely the key to the Scriptures, but he is the giver of wisdom also for this life. He has said to his followers through one of his inspired apostles: “But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and up braideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting’: for he that doubteth is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything from the Lord; a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways Christ is the one who gives meaning and joy to our lives. In him we have been restored to the true humanity in which God had created man, to true knowledge, holiness and righteousness. He is our merciful High Priest ever living to make intercession for us and our advocate at the right hand of the Father, who forgiveth all our iniquities and healeth all our disease. He crowns our lives with loving kindness and satisfies us with good things, so that our youth is renewed.
Although the Old Testament writers only had the promise of the coming Christ they nevertheless sought their basic solution to life’s problems in the Christ of God as revealed in the altar and the tabernacle. For prophecy in Scripture is never separated and isolated from the priesthood, as modern liberalism would have us believe. The author of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself “the Preacher,” is especially struggling with the meaning of life.
At first it seems, if we read but superficially, that the solution is sought apart from God. “Vanity of vanities,” says he, “all is vanity.” He does, indeed, not name the Christ at all, but if we read him in the Spirit in which he writes—viz., in the Spirit of Christ, then we shall also see that the Preacher is leading toward a solution through the Christ, who is the mystery of God and in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden. And if that has any meaning for our mundane existence it certainly must mean that in Christ we attain the right world-and-life view not only, but also achieve the proper appreciation for life, the joys of living.
* * * *
“What profit hath man of all his labor under the sun?” That is the question that is posed. But notice the restriction. It refers to all his labor under the sun. And the answer that immediately suggests itself and also becomes explicit toward the end is that man is after all a super-temporal creature, he is not bound to lime and space. Therefore the question is too narrow and restricted. To be sure, under the sun everything seems to go awry and there seems to be no point to striving and working and loving. But for all these things Cod will bring thee into judgment. Therefore, O man, whoever thou an, consider thy ways and be wise, fear God and keep his commandment, for this is the whole duty of man!
But, moreover, we find the Preacher setting forth two other possible attitudes toward life that have value in themselves and in connection with and subservience to the chief end or man. These two altitudes may interlock or are found in opposition to one another and to the supreme end—viz., of fearing God and serving him; but they need not be, they are legitimate ends if kept in proper perspective and if allowed sub species aeternitatis (in the light of eternity).
There is, then, first of all the joy of the worker, man or woman, whose devotion to work spells fulfillment in life. Miss Elizabeth Heerema, are turned missionary from Pakistan pictures the life of an Indian woman, of the former generation whose whole existence is devoted to her family in one round of work. When such a person is asked why she is so busy and slaving so hard her matter of fact answer is: “What else is life for?” (Cf. The Banner, official publication of the Christian Reformed Church, July 15, 1954, back page). We all know business men, in their office or on the market, who are similarly devoted to their work. Then there is the farmer who gets up with the chickens and never leaves off working till the setting of the sun in summer and works long hours by “city light” in winter. Our own mothers furnish another typical example. for their work was never done, but finally they gave up trying to finish the mending and sewing in one day and had to get some rest, only to begin again the next day with the same thing. And, strange as it may seem, they liked it—at least the majority found joy in their labors and never grew weary in well-doing. The world is simply full of people who never seem to turn off their motors, who like livery horses, never get Out of the harness. They just don’t know how to take a vacation. They would not feel right about “loafing,” which is their word for necessary recreation and rest. Work, labor, striving, continuous activity that is the great star of their lives, they follow it with single-minded devotion.
Notice how the Preacher suggests this sphere of the worker: “Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, yea, even unto eight: for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.” That is to say, “Do not put all your eggs in one basket, or all your money in one bag: But by all means send out your ships and make your investments. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, wether this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” Just previously the writer has warned that if we observe the heavens and study the clouds we shall neither sow nor reap.
We feel this tension that is here recommended, do we not. Labor is a star of great magnitude for man in this earth. And we all know that work is God-given. Man has been called even before the fall to cultivate the ground to bring to fruition the creative will of God. And after the fall his work would be in the sweat of his brow and with backbreaking affects, but man is still called to work, it is truly a legitimate part of his life under the sun. Every normal person with a healthy body and an unpredugiced mind has at one time or another experienced the physical exuberance and the spiritual joy of work. But it does more, it comforts us in our deepest sorrows—it gathers up the raveled sleeve of care even as sleep (Shakespeare) and in disappointments and defeat we find healing and relief in labor with our hands.
But there are warning signals. The Preacher warns us not to let our devotion to work spoil our human relationships, our ambition to achieve may not sour us on life anti make us ruthless in hewing our way through all opposition to the goals we have set. “Therefore, remove vexation (wrath) from thy heart, and put away evil from, thy flesh” (11:10). The evil to the flesh that results from over-work is the sudden breakdown of the machinery. Therefore, to all who seek the meaning of life in work, Solomon seems to be saying: “Do not let your work embitter you against your fellow-men, who may possibly get in your road; and do not damage your health by your excessive desire to accomplish your goal!” In short, work is not the whole duty of man, nor the chief end of life. Rule over your work! Do not let it be your master but master it. Save your personality from becoming a slave to work. Do not so set your head upon your work so that it becomes your supreme treasure. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (I John 2:15). The true secret of mastering one’s work is found only in the Christ, who sanctifies also this star of our lives and hallows our labors unto his glory.
But besides and, it almost seems, above work the Preacher elevates happiness as another light in our sky. Many pious souls have wondered why and probably cannot accept the repeated emphasis of Solomon, but also of Paul, (“Every creature of God is good,” and, “All things are yours”) that we must take care that we do not miss the enjoyments of life, that we must seek happiness. Happiness is not something that we ought to wait for it happily it may come across our path as some comet suddenly appearing out of the blue—but it is a goal to be achieved. One must keep his happiness and his joy before him as a goal. As a matter of fact, the Preacher seems sudden to to abandon his eulogy or labor and makes the praise of seeking happiness the warp and woof of his sermon (11:7–12:1). “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the light of the sun. Yea, if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all.” “Pluck the day,” that is the advice. It is good to enjoy life. A long life ought to be utilized to that end, “get all you can out of it,” says Solomon. The reminder to remember the days of darkness among the good days does not mean that we are to allow the dark days temper the light ones, but rather furnishes a caution to be prodigal and sparing and to enjoy every bit of the good that is our portion under the sun.
But this is not all. “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou…” (vs. 9). This may sound, to some saintly believer, out of mood, for the Christian, But a Calvinist alight not to stumble at it. Surely we have no right to interpret these words ironically. To my mind, this is a bit of serious advice that we ought to heed. For the whole message of the Preacher is to this same end. We must seek and find happiness, we dare not let it pass in the days of youth, for childhood and youth are also vanity, i.e., they shall soon pass away. You can only enjoy them once. It is a transitory joy, the joy and exuberance of youth. Do not abuse and misuse it as the Prodigal Son! Be frugal with your joy in life! That is the divine pedagogy. In all seriousness the Word of God is here warning us not to turn our backs upon joy, not to draw the curtains and close the blinds—especially to the young, because they often are so careless with their felicity. It is one of the tragedies of life that we grow more frugal and penurious with our sunny days as we grow old—for it takes almost a lifetime to realize that the dark days in life are many and that we soon pass away, our lives are spent as a tale that is told.
But having said these things—we must remember that the inspired author constantly, when urging us to realize and appreciate the joys of life, reminds us that it is a gift from God, that happiness is a blessing from heaven. Therefore, we can safely enjoy the things God gives us if we remember him in them. In the light of the revelation of God we can safely enjoy the creation of God, the world he has made. Augustine was convinced of this when he suggests that if one love God he can do as he pleases.
Solomon is saying that same thing, when he says: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.” From that admonition it is certainly evident that the enjoyment of youth is not to be divorced from the service of God. It must be pronounced a mistaken notion of some covenant young people when they put off confessing their Lord on the ground that they would lose out on some of the joys of life in the days of youth.
Happiness is God’s gift to us in Christ. Without Christ there is no real, lasting joy in lire. Therefore the Bible holds this star before us, but always sub species aeternitatis—“remember now thy Creator this is the whole duty of man, Fear God and keep his commandments.” All that we seek to enjoy outside of Christ is plunder, is not coming to us; but in Christ all things are ours. The question simply is: Does Christ have possession of your life? n we are his we have the right to joy, also in this world. And we have the duty of telling our boys and girls that this world is theirs to enjoy—in the days of their youth. Then we can mix work and relaxation, pleasure and appreciation in right proportion. What a drudgery life can be if we do not give ourselves to our work with vigor and joy. What a crabbed, stunted existence man would have without appreciation for life and its joys. It is however a struggle for the Christian to be happy in h is work and to enjoy this world as sanctified through Christ.
In short, to conclude, a Christian may follow the comforting star of work and the alluring star of joy and happiness—if only the religious attitude dominate in his striving and seeking. All labor and all happiness of life must be sanctified. “Whatsoever is not out of faith is sin,” and, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”