Wednesday 1 February 2023

Getting With It

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart;
yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

 – Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)

Ecclesiastes is what the kids today call “a whole mood.” In this book, Koheleth, our would-be teacher and assembler of sayings, presents us with an unrelenting skepticism toward the panoply of purposes to which we devote our lives. Possessions, fame, success, or riches? Forget about it. It’s all empty, whistling vanity. You would have better luck catching the wind.

While Koheleth may be right about the ultimate futility of our all-too-human purposes, the teacher offers us more than mere skepticism with respect to them. Beyond simply counselling the vanity of our various attempts to catch the wind, Koheleth also wants us to question why we should ever have desired to contain it in the first place. What makes us want to control something so fundamentally elusive? Is there another way to relate to the wildness that lies beyond human control than to seek to tame it?

In suggesting questions like these, Koheleth has a lesson to teach us that is particularly suited to our time. We live in an age where it goes almost completely without saying that the world has no meaning itself beyond the instrumental purposes to which we would submit it. We presume to have brought nature to heel and to have bent her to our will. And yet, for all the power we possess to manipulate and intervene in natural processes, things seem more out of control now than they ever have.

To all this vanity, Koheleth councils us to search our own hearts, and notice the eternity that God has set there. God has set eternity in our hearts so that we might awaken to wonder, so that we might become open and porous to the wildness around us and within us. We may not be able to catch the wind, but we can still feel it and be buffeted by it, still be warmed and cooled by it. We can even work in tandem with it by throwing up a sail or building a windmill. ICS emeritus professor Jim Olthuis has coined the verb “withing” to connote a way of relating to creation that contrasts with “controlling” or “dominating.” In this vein, we and the wind can set about “withing” together, without our needing to catch or tame it first. How much would or lives change if we considered our place in God’s cosmos in terms of such “withing”?

The teacher of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is something in our hearts that points us beyond ourselves. While no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end, yet God has made a time for everything in this eternity and given everything its good time. We can trust, then, that God’s good creation will be a home more than fit for human habitation—if only we can get with it. Koheleth helps us do so by showing us the vanity by means of which we hope to catch the wind. We must wake up from this dogmatic slumber and instead start to wonder at the fathomless depths of everything God has done for us, in gratitude for that grace.

Shalom, my friends! 
Ron Kuipers