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Good Thinking in Bad Circumstances

Ecclesiastes  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  42:04
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Scripture Reading

Ecclesiastes 7:13–18 NIV84
13 Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? 14 When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future. 15 In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. 16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself? 17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time? 18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

Introduction

As Solomon has been evaluating life in this world, he has developed for us a most certain truth: Unless we live life in humble obedience to God, accepting that which God has put into place, and the ways that God has ordained in this life, we will never find meaning or satisfaction.
By the end of this book of Ecclesiastes, we will find the summary teaching of Solomon, as he concludes his lengthy expose on finding meaning in life:
Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV84
13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Herein is the only place that a man may find any meaningful measure of joy or satisfaction in their life in this world.
As we look this morning at these few verses, we once again find the wisdom of Solomon teaching us to accept the fact that the world in which we live was created by God for man to live in, but not for man to control, or have mastery over.
We as man have been made (in a sense) the guardians over creation.
We are not God over creation.
This world belongs to God, and it is run entirely according to His eternal power and wisdom.
And every event in the world, every event of life to the minutest detail that unfolds in life, does so according to His perfect providence and power, so as to bring much glory and honour to Him.
Romans 11:36 NIV84
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Ultimately, even these things will work for the good of those who love Him, who have been called by Him according to His purposes (Rom 8:28)
As we consider our lives in this world, we must know, in fact we must be deeply and utterly convinced in our hearts that there is a great God at work in every detail of our lives, even on a personal level.
And we must know that this great God is not only involved in the events of our lives that appear to our minds to be good and pleasing to us, but He is intricately involved in those events of our lives that appear to be exceedingly bad to us.
And let me assure you, beloved, that if we by God’s grace can humble ourselves to these great truths, then we will be greatly comforted and encouraged in our lives.
We will find in these truths a solid rock upon which our hearts may be grounded, even in the storms of this life which may seem to overwhelm us.
Psalm 61:2 NIV84
2 From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
The teaching of Solomon for us today is that we are not privy to the details of this grand plan of God.
We are not told in advance what the plans of God are.
And in the midst of the calm days, and in the midst of the stormy days, we are not told what the greater purpose is of God, and why events unfold as they do.
In fact, if we walk through this life always wanting to know “why?!”, we will destroy ourselves in sea of uncertainty and pain.
With that in mind, let us consider these few verses this morning.

1. In Trials, Recognise the Hand of God

Solomon directs our attention to the events of this world, or the events of our lives, and conveys God’s almighty power over all things, even over those things which in our eyes are crooked...
Ecclesiastes 7:13 NIV84
13 Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
As we consider this verse, we again need to be very aware that Solomon speaks of that which “GOD” has done.
As Solomon considers what is going on in the world around him, and as he evaluates even that which has taken place in his own life, with all the ups and downs in the roller coaster of his own life; in all that has taken place, he is led to consider these things in terms of what “GOD” has done.
We can see that Solomon’s focus here is not primarily on the events of life where all seems to be going well, but rather it is primarily on those events in life which do not go well, and which bring an unexpected twist in a person’s life.
They are the events or occasions that are entirely unanticipated, and which would bring an ordinarily peaceful and calm life, to suddenly become filled with raging storms.
They are those events in life that turn you very suddenly from living happy and joy-filled in the every day things of life, to suddenly being burdened with the most grievous trials you can imagine, and living each day under a heavy burden and a dark cloud.
God brings things into our lives which make what would usually be a very pleasant and joyful life, perhaps even a very God-honoring life, suddenly take a turn down an adverse path.
An example of this is the life of Joni Earekson Tada…
Joni was a lady who had lived the first 17/18 years of her life with much joy and exuberance.
Her family loved the outdoors, and were all very active.
She herself was very active, enjoyed all kinds of sports, including horse riding.
She loved life, and she loved God.
She lived life to the full, and looked forward to a long and healthy life.
But one day at the young age of 17, she was with a group of friends and was enjoying one of those delightful summer days, swimming in a local lake.
It was near the end of the day already, and she dove from a platform on the water into the water
As she dove in, she felt her face strike hard against something, and in an instant her life was dramatically changed.
Her neck was broken, and she lost all function of her limbs from her shoulders down.
In her book, you can read of the long and painful road that she had to travel in learning to adjust to a very different life.
Other Examples:
The loss of a loved one…
Work suddenly lost, no hope of other income…
Relationships that turn sour for some reason… husband / wife; parent / child.
As these events invade our usually settled and routine lives, the storm around us would seem to overwhelm us, and could even lead us to seriously doubt the providential working of God through the trying circumstances.
Indeed, the unbelieving world uses such events and “misfortunes” in life to argue against the existence of God.
If God is real, they would argue, then why is there such extreme poverty and hardship in the world?
If God is real, why did he allow terrorists to carry out their gross acts of terrorism?
If God is real, how could allow this misfortune to come upon me?
But dear friends, we must acknowledge, as Solomon did, that these are in fact the workings of God, no less than any other circumstance in our lives.
So how then should we respond to the situations that we face in this life?
Solomon gives us his advice in verse 14:
Ecclesiastes 7:14 NIV84
14 When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future.
Solomon counsels us that in those times that God has granted you joy and happiness, in those times that are filled with the bountiful blessings of life’s joys, then do enjoy them and be happy.
Be thankful, live thankful lives to God.
But when times are bad, we must consider that these bad times that have come across our paths are not there out of some misfortune, as if God is as surprised as we are about the circumstances that have unfolded.
In fact, we must consider that God has made those very circumstances that are seemingly adverse in our lives.
God has allowed this calamity and hardship to come upon us.
God has in fact brought these events into our lives according to His great and sovereign plan and purpose.
As the prophet Jeremiah looked at Jerusalem, and saw the great affliction that was upon that nation through the express purposes of God, and he himself felt greatly afflicted.
And in this very trying situation, he cried out these words:
Lamentations 3:1–6 NIV84
1 I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. 2 He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; 3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. 4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. 5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. 6 He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.
There was a great burden on the prophet Jeremiah, and as he laments that devastating situation, he expresses all of the pain and hurt that he is enduring, but he does so recognising the hand of God in it.
Indeed, further on in that same chapter, Jeremiah goes on to exclaim:
Lamentations 3:38 NIV84
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?
Similarly, the life of Job was turned entirely upside down, from living a peaceful and joy-filled life, with many good things...
From living a life in which Job praised God and worshipped God daily...
A man who in God’s sight was righteous, and lived in a manner that pleased God...
To suddenly having this great calamity brought upon him...
It was at this time that Jobs wife came to him and suggested that because of these circumstances in life, because God - this God who is supposed to be loving and gracious and merciful - because God had allowed such calamity upon this man Job, he should curse God and die.
How could a loving and powerful and wise God allow this to happen, to this man?
“You don’t deserve this” - would be the reasoning in her mind...
Job 2:10 NIV84
10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
Solomon’s conclusion then is that a man cannot discover anything about his future.
We do not know what calamities will invade our lives and turn our world upside down.
We do not know if, or when such hard times will invade our lives.
All we can know is that such events may very well come, and that we must then acknowledge that even these trials and challenges are from the very hand of God.
As Solomon has laid down this important truth in those two verses concerning accepting both good and bad in life as being from the hand of God, he goes on two explain the extreme responses that may be apparent in our lives as we behold such circumstances.

2. In Trials, Humble Yourself Under God

He begins in verse 15 by saying...
Ecclesiastes 7:15 NIV84
15 In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.
Solomon again draws on his vast experience in life.
He particularly refers to his own meaningless life.
It should strike us once again that despite Solomon’s great status, position, wealth, popularity as a powerful leader of probably the greatest nation on earth, certainly at that time, Solomon still viewed his life as extensively meaningless.
What Solomon says is that in this life of his, he has seen a righteous man perishing in his righteousness.
The meaning here is of course not merely that the righteous man perishes, but that the righteous man perishes far too soon, and is taken away from this world despite the fact that he has been such a righteous man.
This would be a typical example of that which God has made crooked.
In the understanding of the average person in this world, they would argue that if there were indeed a good and loving God, then a righteous man ought to live long.
Certainly God had promised long life to the Israelites if they would obey His commandments and walk with Him.
But Solomon now says that he has seen such a righteous man, and he perishes in his righteousness.
In our own lives, we could think to the lives of godly and faithful men, even ministers of the Gospel who were taken “too soon”...
David Brainerd: missionary to the Indians in the NE of America. Died at age 29.
Robert Murray McCheyne: Scottish pastor and author, who had a remarkable impact on the church. Died at 29.
Keith Green: Song-writer and evangelist. Died in a plane crash at 28
Plenty of people’s lives are snuffed out way too soon, certainly according to our own limited perspective.
On the other hand, Solomon sees a wicked man living long in his wickedness.
Surely, man would argue, if a man is wicked, and God is so good, then God would cut the wicked off from the world, and they would not live a long life?
Indeed, we look at the lives of despotic rulers or leaders, those who rule harshly, and bring destruction upon those that they lead, and we think that surely God will deal with them quickly, and snuff out their lives due to their evil.
But instead, says Solomon, he’s seen some of these exact people going on to live long lives in their wickedness.
Solomon was not the only one who had to wrestle with this realisation.
The prophet Jeremiah, a man who spoke the very oracles of God, had questions regarding the wicked man prospering...
Jeremiah 12:1 NIV84
1 You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?
Solomon makes the observation that he has seen the wicked live long.
Jeremiah asks the question of God concerning his justice: “why does the way of the wicked prosper...”
And we would ask similar questions as we look at our own lives or the lives of those around us.
Or perhaps as we look at the world around us and consider those wicked rulers and leaders that have brought destruction.
God, why?!!
Why do you allow this and not deal with these people according to your own righteousness?!
But before we travel long down that road of questioning, we must hear the counsel of Solomon again:
Ecclesiastes 7:16 NIV84
16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself?
Solomon is concerned that as you consider these events of life, and as you consider the apparent injustice of the calamities of life coming upon you, you may tend to the extreme of being over-righteous.
This may appear to be a strange statement.
If our chief goal and aim in life is to live in Christ-likeness; if God calls us to be holy, even as He Himself is holy; then how could Solomon say here that we should not be over-righteous?
Clearly, the call of Solomon here is not that we should not live righteous lives, but rather that we must not be tempted to place our perceptions of our own righteousness above our perception of God’s righteousness.
One of the most dangerous things that we can do as people is think that we are more righteous than God in our evaluation of circumstances in life.
Paul was a man who, prior to his conversion, saw himself is exceedingly righteous...
Philippians 3:6 NIV84
6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
In terms of legalistic righteousness, Paul was the ultimate example.
And yet how far wasn’t he living, at that time, completely contrary to the ways of God, and completely at odds with God?
We need to be careful in our self-evaluations not to think that we are more righteous than God.
Our perspective on right and wrong is very limited.
Similarly, Solomon says that we are not to be over-wise.
When we believe that we have a better evaluation and judgment on the things going on in the world around us, and we believe that we know better than God how things ought to be working and could have been done much better, we are placing ourselves above the perfect wisdom of our God.
And in doing so, we become exceedingly unwise.
Solomon goes on then to warn of another possible extreme in life...
Ecclesiastes 7:17 NIV84
17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time?
What does Solomon mean here when he says that we shouldn’t be over-wicked?
Does he mean that we can be a little bit wicked, but just don’t take things too far?
No, that’s not at all what Solomon means here.
The fact is we are wicked, and our lives are bound up with sinfulness.
In fact, just a couple of verses down, in ecc 7:20, Solomon says this...
Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIV84
20 There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
Solomon understood very well that we are sinful and wicked in our very nature and makeup.
The point that he makes is that we are not to resign ourselves over to doing wicked, and to engaging in willful disobedience before God, simply because we never know what is going to happen anyway.
Solomon cautions us against a loose lifestyle where we ignore God.
Friends, if you think that this will never happen to you, I would urge you to think again.
How often don’t we find a person in a difficult and trying situation suddenly going down a path of sinful indulgence?
When the trials of life come upon us, it is in those times that we may be tempted to escape reality through indulgence in sinful practices.
We’ve heard the phrase: “drowning our sorrows” - in alcohol, because we cannot stand the trying circumstances of life.
Another person turns to drugs in order to numb the pain of turn of events in life that leaves them lacking in understanding.
Another person turns to adultery or pornography to numb the pain or find the fulfillment that they long for from a difficult marriage.
Do not be overwicked, says Solomon.
Do not be a fool.
Why die before your time?!
While we never truly know how things will unfold, we do not take liberties with God, and play games with him.
Proverbs 10:27 NIV84
27 The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.
In summary, Solomon says in verse 18...
Ecclesiastes 7:18 NIV84
18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.
As we live our lives in the world here, we need to keep our understanding of who we are in God’s world.
We are those who are sinful by nature, but called to live holy lives by the grace of God.
Michael Eaton writes:
“The right life walks the path between two extremes, shunning self-righteousness, but not allowing one’s native wickedness to run its own course.” (1983, p.114).
Ultimately, Solomon’s directive to us is that we should fear God.
Fear God is a key factor that recurs in this second half of the book of Ecclesiastes.
We are to live our lives standing in awe of the God of the universe.
The Almighty has created all things, and not only has he created all things by His powerful hand, but he has purposed and decreed that which will unfold in this world.
Sola5 Confession of Faith Sola5 Confession of Faith

1.3 God is sovereign and works all things according to his own righteous will, for his own glory (Romans 11:33–36). From all eternity God decreed everything that would ever happen in time (Proverbs 16:4; Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11b; Romans 11:33–34; Revelation 15:3–4); he did this in perfect wisdom and holiness (Revelation 15:3–4).

Proverbs 16:4 NIV84
4 The Lord works out everything for his own ends— even the wicked for a day of disaster.
Isaiah 46:10 NIV84
10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.

Application and Conclusion

A.1. Accepting the Crooked things in life

Have you settled in your heart, in your perception of life, that God alone is sovereign?
Perhaps one way to discern this is to ask yourself, to what extent do I grumble at the circumstances of life?
How often (and how much) am I complaining about my life, and my lot in life?
I think this will say a lot in terms of our acknowledgment of God’s sovereign will in our lives.
Please understand that when I say this, I am not talking about a normal kind of emotional or even an inquiring response to our circumstances.
When we face the challenges in life, they are just that: challenges.
When Christ look down on Jerusalem, and looked at their stubbornness and their failure to recognise Him as the Messiah, he grieved at this.
When Christ arrived at the tomb of Lazarus who had died, and He saw the pain and the weeping of those around Him, He wept.
Emotions are a God-given part of our lives as people.
We are emotional, and thank God for that.
But there is a difference between a Godly response with our emotions, and an ungodly one.
When we begin to accuse God, and when we say that God is unjust or unloving because our circumstances are hard, then we’ve crossed that line.
Any time that we say things of God, or think things of God, that are not in accordance with the truth of Scripture, then we must know that we have gone too far.
Friends, can I say to you that the great mark in our lives that is needed in order to avoid this is humility.
A deep humility that says to God: “You are indeed God, I am but dust.”
James 4:13–16 NIV84
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.
Even the very claim in our lives that we will do certain things, and we will carry out certain work or tasks in our lives, without acknowledging that this will only happen by the grace and will of God, is pride; boasting; evil.
Humility before God dear friends!

A.2. Facing the crooked things in life

Just this further point, in an attempt to give you something to hold onto in your own life if you ever face such twists in life that would lead you to very trying circumstances.
What can you do if you find such storms in your own life?
How is it that you can cope?
I read an article on the DesiringGod website this week that I found very helpful.
During this past week, it was the 20 year anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. (son of the US president John F. Kennedy).
He died in a plane crash, in a plane that he himself was piloting.
He was flying his plane at night in adverse conditions, away from the lights of the coast, so that he was not able to orient himself properly.
He suffered from what was known as spatial disorientation, where he was unable to distinguish how / which way the plane was flying etc.
He also very inexperienced and untrained in flying by the instruments of the plane, and this led to the plane crashing, and him dying along with his wife and his wife’s sister who were with him in the plane.
Jon Bloom from Desiring God ministries wrote an article and linked that experience to a person’s experience in life when things are going topsy turvy, and you’re unable to make sense of what’s going on in life around you.
He says in this article that the Scriptures are like the instrument panel in the airplane.
In a time where we cannot understand our circumstances and all that is taking place in the world around us, we need to learn not to trust in our feelings and our emotions, and what our subjective senses tell us about what is happening in our lives.
Rather, we need to learn to trust in the steadfast truths of Scripture to orient and guide us through the storms of life.
I will quote a section of his article, as we draw to a close this morning:
In my dark night of the soul, I decided to fly by the instruments — to steer by the Bible’s direction until I had enough evidence to determine that it was a faulty instrument. My doubts and fears were only leading me into deeper confusion and darkness. And God’s promises had always given me more light and hope than anything I had ever known. My previous training pointed to the wisdom of doubting my doubts.
It was still hard. I still had to steel myself against the fear. And it took a lot longer than I hoped it would. Many times I fought the temptation to ditch the instruments and go with my felt sense of what was true. But I had enough experience and knew enough Bible to know where such “sense” can lead: to nonsense.
So, I kept my focus on the instrument panel. I continued to pursue God in Scripture, I continued to pray, I continued church and small group attendance, whether or not they felt helpful in the moment (and often they did not). I kept on with the work God had given me to do. I opened my heart to trusted friends and mentors, and sought counsel. At one point, John Piper said to me, “The rock of truth under your feet will not long feel like sand.” My thought was, “I hope you’re right. But I doubt it.”
My doubts proved wrong. Eventually, God’s promises proved again to be reliable instruments, and my fears proved again not to be. I didn’t crash. God pierced my cloudy darkness with his light...The eclipse ended, and God, the great Sun of my life, shown (sic) again, illuminating my world (Psalm 36:9). (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/when-your-worst-storm-comes, accessed 2019-07-19)
Are you in a place in life where all is smooth sailing, living a happy and contented life?
Well, praise the Lord and thank Him for that!
Enjoy those days, and even pray, that if it be His will, all your days would be such.
But don’t put that as your expectation to the extent that if calamity were to come, your life would be utterly devastated.
On the other hand, brother, sister in Christ, are you facing a storm in life right now?
Has your world be torn to pieces, with life around you seeming hopeless, seeming as if God surely has lost control of your life?
Do not lose hope dear friend.
Trust in the Lord.
His promises are true and steadfast.
Psalm 46:1 NIV84
1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
And so we must ask with the Psalmist...
Psalm 42:11 NIV84
11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
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