Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Grief in Oklahoma
Many people have died as a result of the Moore, OK tornadoes. Hundreds more have been injured. The destruction of property will be in the many millions of dollars. Can we make any sense out of what seems to be senseless?
Solomon, the richest and wisest among Israel's kings--knew almost unbridled success. He had more money than he could count or spend. He had wine, women, gardens and homes. Everyone was at his disposal. His conclusion? Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
The Hebrew word for vanity is hebel. That word means something like a puff of smoke, a vapor. In indicates something that cannot be held for very long--it is fleeting, passing away and floats on to the next generation. Solomon describes the context of his life of work, gardens and riches in three words, under the sun. He describes it all as vanity.
Under the sun refers to life now on the earth. The book of Genesis tells us how our world got to be in its present condition. When Adam and Eve sinned against God they, their progeny, the womb, the animals and the ground all felt the impact of their sin. Death entered the world and death spread like an uncontrollable disease to every person and it touched every inch of ground--every star in the sky (see Genesis 3 and Romans 5).
The result--graveyards, wrinkles, cancer, tornadoes. And even to the person that escapes this life without facing the heartbreak of seeing his family and his possessions swept away in 200 mile-per-hour winds, even to that person--life is fleeting. Possessions are decaying. Hopelessness can settle in a person's heart so that, like Solomon, he may hate his toil and be given over to despair (Ecclesiastes 2:18,20).
Such is life under the sun.
The sun comes up and the sun goes down. We go to work, purchase a home, buy a car, build a family and in seconds it is disintegrated. Or we go to work, purchase a home, buy a car, build a family and we live 77 years and we die. Is that all that there is? Such a thing is frustrating at the very least. The Bible describes both man and creation itself as groaning (Romans 8:20-21).
There is more. There is life above the sun as well as under the sun. There is hope in the midst of groaning. There is joy in the midst of sorrow. The life that we have, the things that we own and our ability to enjoy life and possessions are a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25; 5:18).
The only way to enjoy the vain things of this life is to see them as temporary gifts from God that point to something more--something lasting. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved (Romans 8:22-23).
Suffering is a reminder that life under the sun is fleeting. It reminds us to enjoy the days and possessions that we do have--every one of them. It tells us not to fix our hope to family, homes, health or money. It tells us not to get too accustomed to life under the sun. It is also a call for us to love our neighbor and to comfort those who suffer. Suffering reminds us that the way to live life joyfully now is to have our confidence firmly fixed on God. As the hymn writer wrote, God is not dead nor doth he sleep. For those who look to Christ, suffering is a reminder of a day of no suffering when neither ground nor man groans any more.
Today is a day of groaning across our nation. It is a day to cry, to weep but to do so with hope. We have a Savior. Christ Jesus is his name.