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A Vicious Circle

Ecclesiastes  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Life doesn’t have to be a vicious circle if your life belongs to Jesus.

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We finally cleaned up from winter and in a few months we’ll be getting out shovels and salt and boots again.
We just got that bill paid and here comes another unplanned bill.
Didn’t we buy our children clothes to fit them last fall? Here I am buying larger clothes again.
You mean I need to prepare another sermon? I just did that for last Sunday.
People look at weather events such as droughts, blizzards, tornadoes, etc., as increasingly unique phenomena. However, if you talk to any farmer, rancher, or any observer who doesn’t get caught up in hype, you will learn that this too has a cyclical pattern. In fact, some of the storms from the past are actually just as terrible as now. The difference is that it is known about all over the world much more quickly.
When we were born, we were dependent upon our parents. Then we became more independent, developing into adults who began to take care of our own children and others. Even as we age, we become more dependent upon our children and others. Some have suggested that this is the cycle where the children become the caretakers, thus, beginning anew a never-ending circle.
The Lion King even has a song dealing with the circle of life. This chapter appears to be Solomon’s skewed perspective on life. He see it as just a vicious circle; a never-ending cycle. That seems to be what started Solomon off in the first 3 verses as he was about to introduce this first section.
In today’s section, dealing with chapter 1, we see a very cynical view of this world’s cycle. It all seemed to circle back to exactly as it started. So what’s the use? as we discussed last time.
Life doesn’t have to be a vicious circle if your life belongs to Jesus.

All the Same - 1:4-7

In these verses, Solomon seems to be on a quest regarding nature. As you see in the opening of verse 4, he notices that people are born and die and generations keep passing, but the circle of nature keeps going. It all seems to stay the same. One can almost get the sense that Solomon saw this earth as totally monotonous.
To prove his point, he deals with four aspects of this natural world. He discusses the sameness of the earth, the sun, the wind, and the water.
Verse 4 begins the discussion on the earth. There was and still is, the assumption that this earth will continue on its course and there will be no change. Land that was farmed by our great-grandparents is still being farmed by my father. Drought, rain, wind, hailstorm, migration of birds, etc. continue happening with every generation.
Yet this also has some very positive effects. Much of what has been discovered through scientific research has taken place as a result of the uniformity and continuity of this earth. For example, gravity has and always will be working.
We see a weather forecasting rock that we found to be quite humorous, yet seems to illustrate the sameness and predictability of our planet. On a sign beside this weather forecasting rock, it reads, in reference to the rock: if it’s hot, it’s sunny; if it’s wet, it’s rainy; if it’s covered in white, it’s snowing; if it’s moving, there’s a tornado.
For all practical purposes, our time on this earth is a mere blip on the radar of what is going on in nature. Death comes to all who live. This earth will continue to spin and go through its various cycles. Nations fall and rise. Certain heroes disappear from our minds and are replaced by new ones. Trends and fads come and go. In all of this, the earth continues its circle.
One commentator suggested that the acting and script to this world are pretty much the same. The difference is that sometimes the costumes and sets are a bit different.
In verse 5, Solomon talks about the continual circling back and forth of day and night. The word picture he presents is almost cartoon-like. As he speaks of the sun rising and setting, he uses the phrase and hastening to it place it rises there again. The NIV and NLT word it like this: hurries back to where it rises or hurries around to rise again. The Hebrew word is literally translated panting. Solomon makes it appear almost like a frantic pattern that has to be continually repeated. Yet what is gained?
It sounds as if he could have used the optimism of Annie as she sang her song Tomorrow—the sun’ll come up tomorrow.
Verse 6 introduces the wind. The sun was visibly obvious, whereas, the wind is not visible. We need to understand that Solomon is not giving a science lecture, but is rather speaking to what he has observed in what he considered a vicious circle. The reality is that the wind is ever-moving and ever-changing. Meteorologists have spent lifetimes trying to predict accurately what the weather will be like. We see on the weather maps the diagrams trying to show their best analysis and prediction, but it often falls short. I sometimes chuckle as I hear them trying to predict the path of a hurricane or a rain system or a blizzard. There is usually 2-4 different weather models that they look at and try to figure out which is the most accurate.
Yet, Jesus explained to Nicodemus about the predictability of wind: The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going . . .
Finally, in verse 7, Solomon speaks about the water. Most of us have seen the incredible science shows as they explain about the water cycle. I have read that the ocean contains about 97% of all the earth’s water. There is a miniscule amount of moisture in the air that is potential rain. How does this circle of life continue, except for the fact of nature keeping up with what it has done for thousands of years. The sun, wind, and all that is needed for evaporation and condensation keep the whole cycle going.
The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going
Well, so much for the observation of this world from a semi-scientific perspective. In the next few verses, Solomon looks at things in a somewhat historical perspective.

Nothing New - 1:8-11

When I read Solomon’s take in verse 9, there is nothing new under the sun, I find myself arguing with Him. After all, just consider what we have observed in our short lives. I remember when we were in the early years of our marriage bemoaning the fact that we were hundreds of miles from family. We mused about how amazing, and potentially embarrassing, it would be if we could make a phone call and actually be able to see the people on the other end of the phone and see what was going on around them. Then we would shrug and say that type of thing can only happen on The Jetsons. Now we have FaceTime and Skype.
I remember as a little boy going to visit some relatives on a Sunday afternoon. I was in absolute amazement as my uncle took us for a drive and had an air conditioner in his car. What would they think of next? Or consider communicating with missionaries. We might write a letter and hope they received it in a couple of weeks. It might be a month before we’d hear back from them. Or we could spend a small fortune making an international call. Today, we have email potential where the communication is close to immediate.
In verse 8, Solomon points out man’s quest for something new, since everything else is wearisome. Our culture is so similar to that way of thinking in that people would rather play mindless games on their electronic devices instead of engaging in meaningful conversation. We have a whole advertising industry that is designed to point out to us how bored we are with what we have and try to convince us to get the next and newest thing, promising us peace and satisfaction. Unfortunately, that proves unsatisfactory, so on to the hunt for the next thing which is supposedly new and improved.
We might wonder why humanity is so restless and why there is always the search for something new. Chapter 3:11 provides some insight: He has also set eternity in their heart . . . We could be like Solomon observed, as those who will become discouraged by the mundaneness and repetitiveness of life, until we listen to God’s voice and trust in Him.
The reality is that there truly is nothing new because only God can create. Edison commented about his inventions, stating that he was only bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of mankind. Even a person being born again is because God, through Jesus, made us new creations. So why do people think they have come up with something new? Very simply, 1:11 states that there is no remembrance . . . Warren Wiersbe tells of an encounter he had with someone that drove this very point home. A young man approached me at a conference and asked if he could share some new ideas for youth ministry. He was very enthusiastic as he outlined his program; but the longer I listened, the more familiar his ideas became. I encouraged him to put his ideas into practice, but then told him that we had done all of those things in Youth for Christ before he was born, and that YFC workers were still doing them. He was a bit stunned to discover that there was indeed nothing new under the sun.
A young man approached me at a conference and asked if he could share some new ideas for youth ministry. He was very enthusiastic as he outlined his program; but the longer I listened, the more familiar his ideas became. I encouraged him to put his ideas into practice, but then told him that we had done all of those things in Youth for Christ before he was born, and that YFC workers were still doing them. He was a bit stunned to discover that there was indeed nothing new under the sun.
Certainly many things have improved, but it is not as if they are brand new. One things seems obvious; without God, everything that is done by humanity seems useless.
Solomon has shared as a scientist and a historian. Now it is as if he has become a philosopher in this upcoming section.

Inconceivable - 1:12-18

As we remember, Solomon was not limited in any way as to how much he could indulge in earthly pleasure or simply research. It appears that he could certainly have performed every experiment under the sun in his attempt to see if life were really a vicious circle. Yet, in all his pursuits, he comments in verse 14 that it all is vanity and striving or chasing after the wind. So Solomon obviously took as broad and wide approach as possible to seek all possible perspectives, even though it was under the sun at this point. He set his mind [heart] to seek and explore. He was not approaching it, however, from the perspective of having his mind made up and only presenting what proved his point. Or as one novelist stated: There is nothing you cannot prove if only your outlook is narrow enough. He had tried everything.
A young man approached me at a conference and asked if he could share some new ideas for youth ministry. He was very enthusiastic as he outlined his program; but the longer I listened, the more familiar his ideas became. I encouraged him to put his ideas into practice, but then told him that we had done all of those things in Youth for Christ before he was born, and that YFC workers were still doing them. He was a bit stunned to discover that there was indeed nothing new under the sun.
Let’s look at some of his conclusions. Verse 13 could be worded simply that Life is unfair and tough. We know from the Bible that the reason that life is difficult is because of the introduction of sin into the world with Adam’s choice. This is part of the curse leveled against humanity. Yet, for those of us who know Christ as Savior, how should we deal with this? You and I know that life is difficult. We tend to focus on many of the difficulties of life and spend an unnecessary amount of time complaining. But think about this: We were saved by the grace and mercy of God and one day, we are going to be in the presence of Jesus Christ, never again to be bothered by sin and sickness. In the meantime, the Spirit of God is working in us to transform us day by day to be more like Jesus Christ. That ought to cause us to be rejoicing and praising God.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 28.
Yet, Solomon continues in verse 14 by reminding us that no matter how hard we try, life continues and it is still a struggle. It seems that there are as many ways as there are of people of trying to escape the reality of the daily grind. Whatever may be lacking in someone’s perspective, there seems to be someone else offering a substitute of some sort in an attempt to bring fulfillment. It has been stated that instead of running away from life, we should run to God and let Him make life worth living.
Verse 15 is best paraphrased in the Living Bible like this: What is wrong cannot be righted; it is water over the dam; and there is no use thinking of what might have been. For the Christian, there is good news. No, we cannot change the past. However, God can change the way the past impacts us. My past cannot stop me from living for Christ. Even with all of my sins and mistakes and arrogant thinking, I can place my faith in the Lord. Instead of letting the past be a burden and a weight, I can allow God to use the past and help me move forward in Him.
Verses 16-18 serve as a reminder that even with all of Solomon’s wisdom and the plethora of experiences God allowed him to have, he couldn’t come up with a satisfactory explanation or solution to what he discovered under the sun. We might use the idea that Solomon left no stone unturned as He sought resolution to the vanity and meaninglessness of life. We must understand that God is under no obligation to give us any answers to why certain things happen on this planet. I don’t know or understand is often the best answer I can provide. However, you and I know that we are told in the Bible to live by faith and not be sight. God has promised and I can take Him at His Word. I do not need proof nor explanations.
It is interesting to note in these verses that Solomon realized that in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain. It’s like I have shared with people: The older I get and the more knowledge I have, the less I seem to really know.

Conclusion

We must remember that Solomon has been neglecting to consider God in all of this. He is observing life and waxing philosophical about it under the sun. In this type of perspective, Solomon does not consider God. Thus, there can be no miracles or answers to prayer. Everything becomes an act of fate. There is an assumption that if there is a God, that He has trapped Himself within His own creation and cannot overrule it.
Yet, you and I know better. The Bible clearly tells us in many different places of God’s working in the lives of His people. We’re told to pray and expect God to intervene and answer our prayers for His glory. We know and have read about times where God has interrupted the laws of this world to accomplish His purposes. You may be wondering when God could have possibly done this. He held back the waters so that the Israelites could cross over the Red Sea, then the Jordan River. He stopped the movement of the sun for Joshua and even caused it to move backward for King Hezekiah. Elijah prophesied and witnessed the rain faucets withholding rain until God released it. The disciples observed Jesus stilling the wind and calming the sea.
You see, we don’t live in a hopeless, vicious circle or cycle, where we are helpless against the marching on of the earth. We don’t just live and die while nature plods continuously on about us. When we place our trust and faith and hope in Jesus Christ for salvation, we can know that God can and will do whatever He needs and wants to do. Yes, Solomon was right in the fact that after we leave this planet it will continue. But he missed the fact that God is ruler over this earth and when we leave this planet we have the opportunity to spend eternity with God.
For the follower of Jesus Christ, we have new blessings in Him every day. Jesus gives new life to all who place their trust in Him. Life doesn’t have to be a vicious circle if your life belongs to Jesus.
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