It All Matters

It’s a false choice between being a spiritual disciple or a Kuyperian disciple.

He owns all the hills. (photo credit)

In Colossians 3 Paul wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2) But the “things of earth” Paul says not to think about are defined in the next paragraph. “What is earthly in you” are the sinful things such as immorality, impurity, idolatry, and more (see verses 5-11).

When you are filled with the word as it says in Colossians 3:16, go on to Colossians 3:18-4:6. When you are filled with the Spirit as it says in Ephesians 5:18, go on to Ephesians 5:22-6:9. Spouses and kids and salty speech are “things of earth,” not things for us to avoid thinking about, but things that we must think about and do differently because of being indwelt by God’s Word and Spirit. Working hard is a thing to do because of the Bible, not by definition in competition with it. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

As a disciple of Christ I must constantly ask, What does acknowledging Christ’s lordship look like whatever I’m doing? I have been excited about the meaning of discipleship on earth for a while, at least since first studying through Genesis. That excitement has been amplified in a hundred other places, reading history and literature in the Omnibus curriculum, reading about education and culture and family. It all points to the fact that it all matters to God. It is part of our very nature to be interested in things and make things and work and be social. We do not have to feel guilty, we do not have to hide, we do not have to limit our “faithfulness” to church defined activities.

There are, though, turns out, many professing Christians who don’t want to hear about this. Some even disapprove of the above as a “worldly” mindset.

There are a least a couple possible reasons for this chiding. One is fear. If everything matters to God, then I will have to think about everything, and care about everything, and answer to Him for everything. It is more comfortable to be lazy, or even to be inconsistent. We might even try to convince ourselves that it is better just to live with some level of guilt for pursuing all the things we’ve decided to define as not mattering to Him. The Kuyperian worldview offers relief, until realizing that the standard was just raised, and raised universally. Thinking about our own work, all of it, as mattering to God is an almost unbearable glory. But it is glory. It is also biblical, and it is the worst to squirrel ourselves away under the pretense of loving Scripture while ignoring large parts of it.

Another reason for rejecting this Kuyperian mindset may pose as faithfulness, but is really just pride. Perhaps we could call it “Christian narcissism,” which cannot be redeemed by the adjective. Men are always looking to justify themselves. Others desire a sort of power or control over others. Christian men, or at least some who profess to be such, are no different. It is easier to measure your likeness to Christ by how many chapters of the Bible you read today. It is easier to claim power over someone if you can convince them that their soul depends on doing what you say is right. But there are so many things outside of the theology department that, in order to manipulate with any hope of success, you have to narrow it down to something manageable, like spiritual disciplines and church-run events. Pastors, even in the Protestant tradition, have led the way in this duping.

So we must repent. We must read all of the verses and not just the ones that other people aren’t doing. We must also let God be God and let Him call different men to different things that we don’t control, nor that we judge.

Not only is this Kuyperian worldview not a retreat, it shows our position on top of the hill. He owns all the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), and He owns all the hills. We, with Christ, assume the center. We should think and talk downhill. The world may act as if they have the lock on the outside of the door to the theology department, but they’re bluffing.

Also, this is not Postmillennialism. We do not think that we are making the world a better place for Jesus to return and rule. Like Israel—somewhat ironically for the point I’m making—in Egypt before the exodus, we will continue to grow and multiply and that will make the surrounding pagans nervous. We won’t win in every way the world defines as winning, but we will be delivered. This is Dispensational, and more on that in the posts to come.

Out in Public

Wittenberg (3/3): Marquet Square by Antonio Vidigal

Kuyperians take their work outside the theology department and the Sunday School class. The elders at our church read Empires of Dirt a while ago, and here is a helpful summary of our options when we go out in public:

When a Christian says that Christians ought not to insist that Jesus be recognized as Lord in the public square, he is either saying that we shouldn’t do this because Jesus doesn’t want us to, or we shouldn’t do this because Jesus doesn’t care, making it OK for us to go along with the secular flow.
But if Jesus wants the public square to be secular, how did we learn this? From the Bible? And if we arrange the public square in this way because of what Jesus said, isn’t this just a form of theocracy? And if we go the other way and say that Jesus doesn’t care what goes on in the public square, and we can therefore make a treaty with the secularists out there, two questions arise. One, how do we know Jesus doesn’t care? Did He say? If He didn’t, how do we know? If He did, then isn’t this just another theocracy variation?

Douglas Wilson, Empires of Dirt, 37-38

Jesus definitely never says that He does not care. Even if He didn’t say He cared, did He say we should not? But we don’t actually need to guess.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth;
yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
and let them say among the nations,
“The LORD reigns!”

1 Chronicles 16:29–31

The Obedience of Faith

Paul wrote to the Romans about the apostleship given to him “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ’s] name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5). The final chapter of Romans includes the same phrase with the purpose of God included: the gospel “has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26).

What does this “obedience of faith” look like? What does it do? What does it care about? In other words, what is our salvation unto? And how does it affect the “nations”?

Ask it still another way? What is a light for? It is not to hide under a bushel basket. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Light shines; it can’t help it. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

So due to Christ’s sovereignty over and interest in the cosmos, apart from sin, what exists that cannot be consecrated in the obedience of faith for His name’s sake? Consider how many things are dealt a death blow by a Kuyperian understanding.

A Kuyperian cannot be a Darwinian. We believe that Christ created all things, that He chose what they would be, what they could become, and what they could not become.

A Kuyperian cannot be a Deist. We believe that Christ sustains all things, that they all hold together in Him moment by moment. He did not create the world and then leave us to our own devices like a watch-maker.

A Kuyperian cannot be a Dualist. We believe that Christ created and sustains what He cares about, which includes invisible and visible things. As a subset of this, a Kuyperian cannot be an asceticist, one who gives up all things. This is not even of true spiritual value, and it defines spirituality in worldly terms (see Colossians 2:20-23). It goes against the positive that Paul described to Timothy (see 1 Timothy 4:1-5).

A Kuyperian cannot be indifferent. Our apathy, our boredom, our unthankfulness for creation as creatures for is a failure to honor Christ.

Whether you use the adjective “Kuyperian” or not, it is intended to give us some common language about the sort of Calvinists we are. We believe that “our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). He calls the nations to worship Him. The gospel is the power of God to salvation for the Jew first, and also for the Gentiles. Saved men are commissioned to use their thumbs for Christ, and for more than flipping the pages of their Bibles.

Theology Out of Church Doors

This is public theology, not because it is decided by the people, but because it is for the people.

In Christ the cosmos has order and meaning everywhere. It’s all for His glory, including anthropology, sociology, science and technology, medicine, agriculture, gender and marriage and sex and parenting, education, economics, government, art, and hygiene. Among other things, Kuyper himself helped to start a daily newspaper, a university, and a political party. You can even get the Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology (12 vols). So he said,

[N]ot only the church, but also the world belongs to God and in both has to be investigated the masterpiece of the supreme Architect and Artificer. A Calvinist who seeks God, does not for a moment think of limiting himself to theology and contemplation, leaving the other sciences, as of a lower character, in the hands of unbelievers; but on the contrary, looking upon it as his task to know God in all his works, he is conscious of having been called to fathom with all the energy of his intellect, things terrestrial as well as things celestial.

Lectures on Calvinism, 125

A Kuyperian is a Christian who worships with the church and then works outside the church. The church is not the boss, but Christians can be. Kuyperianism is concerned for everything outside of the institutional church. The ends of the theology department are hard to see from here, but some of us have never even noticed the door.

The Ends of the Theology Department

The confession of the Christian life is: Jesus is Lord. Paul wrote to the Romans:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

What better summary of what we believe that that? He is Lord. Jesus reigns. “God has made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36), Messiah and Master. As we considered previously, there is not one thumb’s width (’un dimebrrate) in all of creation that Christ doesn’t claim as His own. This is what we confess, what we celebrate, and also a large part of what motivates us as His disciples. Where can we go from His Spirit? Where can we flee from His concerns?

It is, however, not only possible, but also confirmed, that in some circles, Christians agree with teaching about the Lordship of Jesus who nevertheless limit the implications of His Lordship to spiritual matters alone (as defined in ironically worldly ways). Jesus cares about our beliefs, that they be biblical. He cares about our conduct, that we be obedient. And He cares about our worship, that we be loving. But it is still possible to define our Christian lives in unbiblical categories.

For example, in no verse in the Bible does God say that a good Christian must have quiet times with the Lord or follow a Bible reading program. I think this was mostly because copies of God’s Word were not available for most people throughout most of Church history. We take our access to Scriptures for granted, and such saturation is a good problem to have. But “somehow” the disciples honored the Lord without a New Testament. David spent time with the Lord, Jesus spent time alone with His Father, and I don’t know where I’d be apart from some private time with the Lord each day. But minutes in prayer is not the measure of one’s godliness any more than gas in the tank is the measure of how far you’ve driven.

For that matter, it has often been the case that in churches where the Bible is loved (which is a good thing), that the mark of having arrived at spiritual maturity is teaching a Bible study or a Sunday School class. On one hand, Colossians 3:16 says that the word of Christ should dwell in all of us richly (though again, that is not necessarily reading it) so that we will be naturally “teaching and admonishing one another.” This is one-another encouragement from the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” because lyrics would be memorable, easier to pull out in a conversation in order to bless a brother.

This is a different sort of teaching than the more formal teaching position that many ministries push people toward. Yet James explicitly says, “Let not many of you be teachers”! This is due to the difficulty of not sinning with one’s tongue; it’s hard. But in the name of teaching the Bible how have we Bible people so blatantly disobeyed the Bible? Not only that, if most people are NOT to be teachers, how are the actual teachers supposed to teach in such a way as to help the non-teachers become “complete in Christ”? This means that there must be a lot of ways to be like Christ.

This is why the adjective “Kuyperian” can be so helpful. It intends to take intentionally and seriously the Bible’s teaching that God is interested in His image-bearers being interested in a universe worth of things. Yes, we are not God, so our capacity for interests will be finite. But we ought to purposefully seek to increase our capacities and also to maximize our interests for His sake. That’s one of the ways we become more “complete in Christ.” Abraham Kuyper was a guy who worked to apply this truth and to spread it into the corners.

God is sovereign in salvation: Calvinism. God is sovereign everywhere: Kuyperian Calvinism. John Calvin started with the truth of God’s control in the universe, Kuyper just continued to roll out what that means.

[T]he persuasion that the whole of a man’s life is to be lived in the Divine Presence has become the fundamental thought of Calvinism. By this decisive idea, or rather by this mighty fact, it has allowed itself to be controlled in every department of its entire domain. It is from this mother-thought that the all-embracing life system of Calvinism sprang.

Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 25-26

Seeing the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28, human beings, and especially redeemed human beings who know and follow the Lord, have stewardship responsibilities in all their daily work. What happens in the theology department must not stay in the theology department.

In the final chapter of Lectures on Calvinism Kuyper makes a distinction between the world’s understanding of (natural) selection (survival of the fittest) and the Calvinist’s understanding of (divine) election (sovereignty of the Father). It’s a one letter difference, but a worldview apart.

When we look around, why are things different? “There is no life without differentiation, and no differentiation without inequality….Whence are those differences?”

Calvinism dared to face this same all-dominating problem, solving it, however, not in the sense of a blind selection stirring in unconscious cells, but honoring the sovereign choice of Him Who created all things visible and invisible. The determination of the existence of all things to be created, of what is to be camellia or buttercup, nightingale or crow, hart or swine, and, equally among men, the determination of our own persons, whether one is to be born as girl or boy, rich or poor, dull or clever, white or colored, or even as Abel or Cain, is the most tremendous predestination conceivable in heaven or on earth; and still we see it taking place before our eyes every day, and we ourselves are subject to it in our entire personality; our entire existence, our very nature, our position in life being entirely dependent on it. This all-embracing predestination, the Calvinist places, not in the hand of man, and still less in the hand of a blind natural force, but in the hand of Almighty God, Sovereign Creator and Possessor of heaven and earth; and it is in the figure of the potter and the clay that Scripture has from the time of the Prophets expounded to us this all-dominating election. Election in creation, election in providence, and so election also to eternal life; election in the realm of grace as well as in the realm of nature.

Lectures on Calvinism, 189

We believe that the world is filled with givens, things that the Lord chose things to be one way and not another. We can, and should, receive the givens with thanks, and then respond accordingly to what God has chosen.

Gender is a given, not a cultural idea or social contract. Marriage is a given, not a pragmatic agreement among citizens. God chose how things work. His sovereign concerns are not limited to spiritual things, salvific issues, or church relations alone. His sovereignty extends out of our private places and into the public square. To be a disciple of the Lord is to seek to obey Him in a lot more places that we’ve previously acknowledged.

A Kuyperian acknowledges Jesus as Lord in all the wide wide world. A Kuyperian does his work as to the Lord because he thinks that the Lord actually cares about what he does with his time, not just that the worker be honest on his time card.

Kuyperian: A High-Altitude Definition against Dualism

Maybe better than anyone else at seeing God’s love for the cosmos and how God ordered it for humans to use in honoring God was Abraham Kuyper. His quote about the Lordship of Christ is only the thumbnail of his entire body of work about the Bible’s revelation about all revelation.

Dapper. And no dualist!

In the last few posts we were starting to answer the question: What is a Kuyperian? Using the adjective as a description of those who see what God says about creation in the Bible a Kuyperian is a Calvinistic Christian who acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord over the wide, wide world. A Kuyperian is wide awake (different from the current fad of “wokeness”) with wide eyes to the wide range of Christ’s concerns.

A Kuyperian asks, What is salvation for? A Kuyperian recognizes that his body and his wife and his kids and his lawn and his job may not last forever but how he fulfills his responsibilities and is faithful in his relationships will last. A Kuyperian gets that nothing is neutral, that without Christ was not any thing good that was good (see John 1:3). A Kuyperian commits to avoid indifference to God’s creation, and repents of dualism that seeks to avoid, let alone abuse, God’s creation.

A Kuyperian worldview means that:

  • our vision of what God is interested in is increased. So our imaginations are fired up to ideate ways to reflect Him.
  • there is no guilt for enjoying or using the things of earth. Actually, there is guilt for not enjoying and using them. We ought to give thanks and recognize that we will give account as stewards of all His gifts.
  • the glory of man is weightier. To be created by God to reflect His likeness is to be stretched out and grown up, to be brought further up and further in, as we learn to walk well in our Father’s shoes.

The label “Kuyperian” is useful, if not vital, because there are many two-dimensional image-bearers in the church, whose worldview is as thin as a printed word, reading only what they think are the “spiritual” parts of the Bible. Many Christians have read the wisest man in the Scriptures—Solomon, have read the first chapter of the Bible—Genesis 1, have even embraced Paul’s inspired goal of ministry—Colossians 1:28, and still missed it. I did. It is a hermeneutic irony that Dispensationals, who pride themselves on reading the Bible, misread the Bible on this point. The “Kuyperian” adjective is important because we are supposed to love everything that God loves.

There is still more to see in the Bible’s teaching about God’s interests. Soon.

Outside the Prayer Closet

There are many verses in the Bible that talk about God as Creator. Genesis reveals it, Israel depended on it, the Psalms celebrate it, the prophets expect it will be important in the future. In the New Testament we learn that Christ Himself, the Word of God, deserves credit for creation (see John 1:3, Hebrews 1:2-3).

Consider this early confession:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15–17

Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Colosse to deal with a few elements of false teaching in the church. One of them was the idea that Christ was just “one” among many divine beings. The list of principalities and powers that He created shows that He can’t be on their level, let alone on a lower level than them. He made them, He’s not one of them. There is in fact a hierarchy of creatures, but it’s not a rank of some creatures with higher percentages of spirit instead of flesh.

This was a seed of Gnostic thinking which, among other errors, included what we call dualism. Dualism is the idea that matter/flesh/visible/becoming are evil, or at least less valuable than spirit/invisible/being. But Jesus is fully God and fully man, and this didn’t ruin His deity.

It got me thinking: what is the point of Colossians 1:15-17? Why talk about Christ’s creative wisdom and power before talking about His redeeming work (verses 18-20)? What does the preeminence of Christ in the universe have to do with the goal of Christian ministry that Paul described near the end of the chapter?

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Colossians 1:28

For too long–and I should have paid better attention to the context–I thought verses 15-17 established Christ’s preeminence by brute force. “He made everything, so you better do what He says.” Being more like Christ is, therefore, mainly a moral issue. He obeyed perfectly, and He has the authority to demand similar obedience.

He certainly does have all authority, just as He told His disciples (Matthew 28:18). But His creative work establishes not only the extent of His authority but also the extent of His interests. Creation is not merely one big object lesson to motivate our obedience before His force. Creation is His playground and His love and His gift. Ironically, we behave immorally when we complain about, and when we try to avoid, all the things of earth that He calls good.

As image-bearers and as Christians, to reflect God and to reflect Christ means that we must be interested in what God in Christ is interested in. We must learn what He is like and that includes the kinds of things He likes. He likes what He made. He likes wine and wood and websites. He likes legs and breasts and muscles. He likes family trees and family names. He likes farms and good food and the semitrucks that deliver food to the store for us to purchase. So enjoy the process. Being complete in Christ is no less than a way of looking at the wide wide world.

Let’s return to Kuyper’s quote. Whoever translated it into English missed a great opportunity. The phrase “every square inch” is accessible, but a much more concrete and personal and more accurate translation is available. It should be:

“There is not one thumb’s width in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

The Dutch phrase is een duimbreed (pronounced un dime-brrrate) which refers to the distance between the sides of the thumb: “one thumb’s width.” Everything that can be touched or measured is claimed by Christ.

This is more than a declaration about the boundaries of His dominion, it is a declaration about the breadth of His interests, the abundance and assortment of His likes, the scope of His concerns. His domain extends everywhere, but it’s not as if He owns a 10,000 square foot house in order to impress on us that He only cares about what happens in the prayer closet. He wants us to get out more.

The First Chapter

When we finished studying Ecclesiastes I still wanted to stay in the Old Testament. I thought perhaps Genesis: starting at the beginning. Genesis is the foundation for the entire Bible. It reveals initial and crucial parts of redemptive history such as the Fall, the call of Abram, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and some of our favorite stories of the faith. Plus I thought we could work through the creation account and pound on how a good reading of the text just doesn’t leave room for evolution, materialistic or theistic.

I was sure this would be great foundation building stuff. What I didn’t realize is how thin and puny my own foundation was. I didn’t realize that I would not make it out of the first chapter without a severely remade worldview and even more reasons to repent.

I was coming to Genesis as a Christian and even as a Calvinist. I was coming to Genesis as one who believed the Bible in the craziest-seeming parts, including six 24-hours-as-we-measure days of creation. I believed God was all-powerful, the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth. I did not come to Genesis as a doubter, but I soon realized that I had come to Genesis as a dualist. I came to it as a Christian, which is good, but I needed to come to it as a man, as a human being with flesh and bones and blood. I came as one eager for heaven and I had to repent for not appreciating the earth.

Maybe more than His potency, Genesis 1 reveals God’s gushing gladness to create. He spoke nothings into somethings, He separated some things into different things, and called it good. It was all up to Him at that point. He could have made whatever He wanted however He wanted for the sake of whatever He wanted. And He made time: seasons and days and years. He made dimensions: up and down and around. He made colors and shades and dimness settings. He made big and small, many and few.

Then He started talking to Himself, in the Persons of the Trinity (verse 26), about Their upcoming, unrivaled work. They were readying to make a creature who would mirror Themselves. This creature would be stamped with the divine image.

What would it be? Perhaps a vast library filled with the greatest poems and prose, exalting the all-wise and rational truth of God. Or maybe an intricate system of precise scales on which things could be measured and weighed, demonstrating the goodness of God. Perhaps an immense museum filled with paintings and sculptures, with harmonious music in the background, showing the beauty of God.

Instead, God invented toes and knees and hips and elbows and shoulders and vertebrae and teeth, all out of dust, and then breathed life into it. A little while later He made a complimentary creature out of chest-bone, giving that creature more curves and some different internal parts. God ordained their uniqueness and their covenantal oneness, celebrating their relationship as a pattern for all time.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26–27

When the Maker addressed Adam and Eve He gave them a mandate, recorded for us in Genesis 1:28.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:28

God said: Have kids, who have kids, who move out of the house, and figure out how to build houses, and keep bugs out of your houses, and later make an online shop to buy things to furnish those houses. Here was a human task, to have and enjoy families, to invent and extend work.

This is what God thinks is good. He patterned weeks for us by His own work. He also patterned equal but different relationships for us.

So: the things of earth are not keeping us from what God thinks is good. Even verse 29 is as if God couldn’t wait to show Adam the goods. “And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.’” (Genesis 1:29). He wanted to show Adam all the variety of veggies available for eating. Eating! It’s not a chore, it’s a grace, an undeserved gift given to men. All of it, from babies to bananas, dirt and dominion, generations and exploration, genders and astronomy and sleep, God says is good.

Do we say it is good? Yes, Genesis 3 happened, and work now requires a sweat when you have to restart your computer after the software crashes. Birth involves extra pains not present previously. There are conflicts in relationships that come because of sin. But sin is also what keeps us from seeing the good world and being thankful. God didn’t give up on the human body after the fall. He gave His Son one and promises all His people a glorified one. God didn’t give up on marriage after the fall, or the blessing of faithful grandparents and parents and cultural heritage. God didn’t limit us to grits without salt and butter after the fall, He even added beef and eventually pork to the menu. And note, Adam and Eve didn’t even have a Bible to read in paradise. They had work, fruits and veggies, walks, sex, rest, and fellowship with God. That’s all GOOD.

The Wide Wide World of Christ

At the beginning of 2005 I was finishing up preparation to teach about the Reformation at our youth ministry’s winter retreat. I had recently listened to a message by John Piper from the “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ” conference where he preached a rousing message on the preeminence of Christ. In his message he quoted a man I had never heard of before named Abraham Kuyper. The quote was:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

It’s a fantastic quote, and I’ve heard it used or read it a number of times since then. I even used it in my message on Solus Christus at that retreat. Jesus reigns! As much as I believed it to be true, I didn’t realize how wide the truth of it applies.

Wisdom from the Wisest

The previous fall I had started teaching through Ecclesiastes with the students. I wanted to preach something other than an epistle, and I also thought that Ecclesiastes was perhaps the book most like an epistle in the Old Testament. Solomon wrote about life under the sun and, in particular, life’s heavy vanity. But as we studied through the book I noticed that every so often he described a buoy in the middle of the sea of vanity that a person could grab onto and pull their head out and get a breath.

I’m not sure that Solomon would have found much joy in this painting. You can make your own judgment.

What surprised me, though, as someone steeped in the epistles, is that joy for Solomon was not found somewhere other than on earth nor outside of normal, temporal activities. I don’t think it’s because in all his wisdom Solomon didn’t know about or believe in heaven, but rather because he believed that for those who fear God there is good to be had here, good in white garments and life with one’s wife and working with all your might (see Ecclesiastes 9:7-10). Here’s the money passage in the entire book as far as I’m concerned:

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy.

Ecclesiastes 2:24–26a

This joy returns a few times in the preacher’s wisdom. It isn’t found by getting away from people or duties or even off the planet. Joy is a gift from God for those rightly related to Him, a gift that He gives for those in the process of life on earth, not just those waiting for eternity.

Repentance dominated those days, that is, I was seeing my need to repent all over the place. Repentance was needed for complaining about repetitive, routine tasks. Repentance was needed both for seeking improper satisfaction from earthly things and also seeking improper liberation from earthly things. Repentance was required for avoiding God’s gifts, not just abusing them. According to the Scriptures, eating and drinking and toiling are places to find joy, not hindrances to joy.

To me, joy had been found in reading the Bible, in prayer, in studying theology, in writing sermons, in equipping others to disciple, in retreating for spiritual purposes. That was my work as a pastor, but I defined my work so narrowly that filling out paperwork, running errands, maintaining the car, or talking about budget spreadsheets seemed like lesser things. Was joy to be found even in that work?

If Solomon was right, how couldn’t it be? I knew that in studying the Bible one must always ask who the original audience was. Who were the people who first heard Solomon? They weren’t all philosophers or politicians, let alone theologians or pastors. They would have included farmers, soldiers, carpenters, musicians, cooks, and homemakers, the salt of the earth sort. Solomon couldn’t really be saying that God gives enjoyment in that kind of work, in itself, could he? Isn’t that kind of work the work to do to get to the work that matters? Yet my conclusion wasn’t in the text. The wisest man in the Bible had nothing for me about finding joy in longer hours of devotions and less in diaper changing. And he wasn’t the only one.