Stay in Bed and Avoid Problems: Ecclesiastes 10:8-9

Whoever digs a pit may fall into it;

    whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.
Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them;
    whoever splits logs may be endangered by them.—Ecclesiastes 10:8-9
As I sit here this morning, taking a bit of slow start to the day, I have time to reflect on various things. It is 7:41. I didn’t get up at 6:00 or even at 7:00 today. Since I didn’t have to go to work and Olivia didn’t have to go to work, there was no rush. There’s been rain falling gently for the last 90 minutes or so, so my mind said, “Stay in bed and avoid problems.”
Life’s problems can be best avoided, I think, by doing nothing. Think about it. If I never mow my grass, then I will never risk injuring myself with the lawnmower. If I don’t drive anywhere, then I cannot get into an automobile accident. If I don’t brush my teeth, there’s no chance of me choking on toothpaste. I could go on.
In the verses quoted here, Solomon gives four examples of ways that work can seem to be foolishness. Is this to be read as saying that work is folly? I’m not going to dig a hole, because I might fall into it. Or is he simply pointing out that every worthwhile thing has its attendant dangers?
Life has its risks. If I go through life without risk, then it is really not life. I wrote recently about Dean Potter, a famous climber who died in a BASE jumping accident. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who risk their necks foolishly, but is such risk really worse than risking your life by not living it? Would you rather have your life cut short when you’re doing something or to have your life cut short because you spent it sitting on the couch watching reruns of MASH?
Throughout Ecclesiastes, you run into that word ‘meaningless.’ I try to make sense of that word by substituting “What’s up with that?”
Throughout this chapter and throughout life, we have a series of examples of things that don’t make a great deal of sense. But our job is not really to make sense of life and all of its details. If you cut stones you might get hurt by them. What’s up with that? No, it doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t really make sense, but that’s just the way life is. Life under the sun doesn’t always make  sense, but that’s okay. We can’t hold out for sense. Instead, we just need to accept the risk. Then enjoy our food and drink and work. That’s the fate of man under the sun.

The Work of Our Hands

working hands“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.” Surely Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 5:30 is meant as hyperbole. Still I must confess that my hands (and the rest of my body) can get me into a great deal of trouble.

Why did God save you from the sins of your flesh only to leave you inhabiting that flesh for the rest of your life, abandoning you, so it would seem, to an endless parade of temptations and inevitable failures? That’s a curious question, one of those when-I-get-to-heaven-I’m-gonna-ask sort of questions.

While I don’t have an absolute answer for that question, I do assume that God did this not by oversight but on purpose. The question we can answer is how to live in that flesh. Do I succumb to gluttony or pride when I consider my body? Do I invest too much attention into my work or too little, yielding to sloth? Marshall Segal has written persuasively on how we are to properly navigate this problem (although the title of his essay seems misleading to me).

Our tendency toward idolatry in our work is no indictment against work (just like pornography is no indictment against sex (in the context of marriage), and drunk driving is no indictment against the automobile). Even before sin entered into the world, God wanted us to work (Genesis 2:15). In fact, he made us to work (Psalm 8:6). It was woven into the goodness of God’s perfect creation. All work is God’s, and it serves as a brilliant shadow of his own sovereign, just, creative, and sustaining work (Hebrews 1:10Psalm 143:5).

It’s so easy to become enamored with the work that these hands can do. It’s so easy to lapse into idolatry. Yet it’s just as easy to fold my hands (and all the rest of my flesh) and ignore it. While I cannot answer with certainly why God saved me from my flesh and then left me in it, I can discern directions in how I am to live out those flesh-bound years. Perhaps that’s enough.

Better Homes and Hovels (Hebrews 4:8)

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. (Hebrews 4:8)

Three years ago, I moved in at the top of Shamayim Hill, living for the first time in my life, in the sort of place that I’d always dreamed of. After the documents were all signed, somebody–I can’t remember who–handed me the keys and congratulated me on my new home. It was a couple of days later that we actually managed to move in.

Contrary to the “lifestyle” and home improvement ads that we see on TV, life upon coming in to our new home did not consist of shady dinners on the back patio and barefoot romps across painfully green grass.

Instead, we had to eradicate half of the wasps in the western hemisphere and remove somebody else’s junk. One evening, as I walked in to the house from a long day’s efforts, I stopped and thought, “I have enough work to last me until…” I paused and then realized that the work would last forever.

When Joshua stopped the flow of the Jordan River and cleared the way for the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land, he did not take them to a land of ease. Yes, they took possession of orchards they did not plant, but the cultivation of those orchards fell to the new owners. The people of Israel did not enter into God’s rest any more than I entered into a life of rest upon moving here.

My rest will not come from any of the booths at the home show or the promises of glossy TV ads. My rest will not come from some mythical end to all my labors. My rest comes in midst of my labors as I adhere to the God who created me and emulate the Messiah who provided my justification.

The Tangles of Sin (Hebrews 3:13)

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13)

I set my son to a task last week. “Take all manner of tools down the driveway and start clearing the brush off of the fenceline,” I told him. I passed him on my way out to run errands as he carried the tools and headed to the appointed spot. When I returned home, perhaps an hour later, he did not appear beside the driveway, nor did a large pile of brush greet my arrival. As I motored past, I grumbled at this failure to launch.

Yesterday, I set Tom to another task. Having hacked down a mountain of small trees and saplings, I glared at the piles beside the driveway and paled at the thought of moving them to my burning area. I delegated the job to Tom.

Curiously, this task, unlike the assault on the fenceline, ended in a magnificent success. Across the span of the afternoon, Tom, assisted by a friend Jared, dragged, piled, cut, and otherwise transported this immense mound of vegetation to the spot in the pasture where I could safely torch it. As I set to work mowing nearby, the pair of them drove by on the lawn tractor and trailer, waving at me. They had finished.

Where did the difference lay? We might argue that the job of moving the brush proved simpler than of hacking it down, but I would expect another explanation to be the right one. Yesterday, Tom had Jared. Jared had Tom. The pair of them encouraged each other and kept each other on the task.

How hard is it for us to live the Christian life in solitude? Some might manage it, but most of us would fail miserably. That’s what today’s verse reminds us. While God’s power is infinite and his faithfulness unbounded, ours are decidedly limited. Just as my fenceline, left to its own devices, will grow up in thorns and vines in short order, my attentiveness to holiness, left alone, tends to stray.

Let us encourage each other. While moving brush or moving through life.



Managing Time Management

The professional class in our society, a group in which I find myself at work, makes a lot of noise about time management. You have to synchronize your Blackberry with your Outlook folders and keep a complicated to-do list. Multi-tasking and advance planning are absolutely necessary. The most successful person in this world is the person who gets the most things done (well) in the briefest time.

This mindset sat in the back of my mind yesterday when I found myself at home around 1 pm and resolved to get a great deal done with my remaining hours of daylight. Listening the Wuthering Heights on my iPod, I headed out to the barn. I would jump in the truck and make several water runs before turning my attention to other necessities. That’s when the first fly jumped into the ointment.

Hearing a vehicle coming up the driveway, I turned to see Josh approaching. Josh had arranged to stash some of his family’s belongings in my barn while they’re between houses. I’ve been in that situation, hunkering down with parents when buy and sell dates didn’t line up well, so I have sympathy for the guy.  A couple of minutes later, Brad arrived with a truck and trailer full of Josh’s stuff.

Had I gotten into the truck ten minutes earlier, I could have been gone when Josh and Brad arrived, but being present, I had to pretend I owned the place, opening the door, turning on the lights, and helping to unload the trailer. In the time we did that chore–and in the few minutes we all stood around jawing after the trailer had been emptied–I could have gone to town and brought 425 gallons of water up the hill. That’s three or four days worth of water in my house. But the opportunity had flown.

As soon as the sounds of their tires had disappeared down the hill, I jumped into the truck and started off toward town. At the bottom of the hill, I found Jim, my excellent neighbor, abusing trees with his tractor. When he saw me, he pulled the tractor alongside the road and turned the engine off. Obviously I was meant to stop.

Jim and I sat there on the driveway for at least a half hour–long enough that Kate, my dog, was whimpering and whining about the delay–talking about buying gravel, the winter, deer hunting, and a host of other things. Three different times, I indicated that I needed to get moving, but then we’d both tumble back into conversation. Only when I turned the key in the truck did we manage to break it off.

All in all, I’d guess that I lost the opportunity to haul two and possibly three additional loads of water yesterday. I wound up getting two delivered, enough to keep us supplied for a week. The time-management gurus would not smile on my failure, but I’m not so sure that I didn’t come out ahead in this exchange.

Time is money, our society says, but time is more than that. Time is value. Time is relationship. In the end, my money will flicker and fade, but relationships have the potential to endure. The time I spent helping Josh or talking with Jim will not show up in Quicken or appear on my tax return, but they have value.

You can’t always schedule these sorts of time usages on your to-do list. Careful planning doesn’t usually foresee pulling a friend’s van out of the ditch, unloading a trailer, or just chatting with a friend you haven’t spoken to for months. That’s as it should be. After all, if your life can be completely laid out in the confines of a Blackberry’s database, it’s a pretty poor life, regardless of your income.