Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chapter 7; The Tao of Narnia

Ecclesiastes and chapter 7: on pain and pleasure, comfort and consideration, wisdom and suffering.

Purely on a human level, there are many who seem to find success and prosperity while others who seek rightness before God find suffering and hardship.

Is this picture accurate or does this book say there is something we are missing in this assessment?
Is there anything to gain from suffering in the book of Ecclesiastes? Would you tell me which verses serve your answer?

Is there a verse where we are to find that we are seek as much comfort and to satisfy ourselves with pleasure where we can find it?
Why is it facile (easy) to say God is sovereign but so difficult to live it out? Does this book downplay or avoid this part of His character?

The most difficult doctrines to get in the blood stream

On our survey of Ecclesiastes there are two conflicting perspectives in this book; the site-line of heaven and the other, the world under the Sun. One eternal, under heaven, and one broken and under the sun. There is life with a view to God and there is the other, godlessness which ends in, as we have come to understand from our discussion, a useless and withering of the grass without this thing called “wisdom.“
Dostoyevsky was quoted as saying, “If God is not real, if there is no God, then all things are permissible.” Immanuel Kant said, “we must live as if there is a God. Because if we conclude there is no God then our ethical principles and decisions will ultimately be meaningless.”

God ordains things in his own purpose and time and we do things according to those times. There is a motif throughout this book and throughout the Old Testament that states this same thing. That reaffirms, again and again, this central motif that God is sovereign. It is my experience that when asked about it, almost no one thinks that God isn’t sovereign. For they conclude that if God is God he must be sovereign. It is impossible for him not to be sovereign and be less than his whole. As a doctrine this is a facile thing to know and say. Because we all affirm this on the surface. But it is one of the most difficult doctrines to get in the blood stream. To get it into the fiber of daily living. For when bad things start to happen and things befall us or others we care about, we start to question whether the sovereignty of God or the goodness of God is warranted. And we will ask -- WHY -- would a good and sovereign God allow these things to happen. Many of the theologies that flourish in our land are designed to side-step this problem. To absolve God of any responsibility for the tragedies of human life. To ultimately turn the sovereignty over to the human soul and heart. Which is, they will say, what, an error or goof of logic on God‘s part, or a part of his being away on vacation. Is this a pagan worldview?

Let’s start with Ecc 7 where it starts out, like Proverbs, with aphorisms that are short and succinct.

{We will read the chapter then discuss these together. But I’ll write a little about them here and you can write your thoughts down also.}

In verse 1:
Where there is the contrast between a good name and precious ointment. (Today ointments are inexpensive but in that day the general cost was quite high while also being rare and hard to get.) Next, the contrast is between death and birth. But here it could be taken in the pessimistic view or the transcendent view. The nihilist must curse the day of his birth. For he sees life as “Ex Nihilo.” But like the nihilist, Job when he was on the verge of his torment, said cursed be my birth. Also Moses and Jeremiah had that pessimism about circumstances at times in their writing. And yes, from the perspective of this world we can get very tired of living. We have both views available to us.

The song from Kern and Hammerstein and the 1927 musical “Show Boat” called “Ol’ Man River“ where it says---tote that barge, lift that bail, get a little drunk and you land in jail….it just keeps rollin’ along. Well that is a modern theme of this circumstance in Ecc. The endless flow of the Mississippi river from the view of a dock worker on a showboat.
…I’m tired of livin’ but scared of dying.

Is the Child who seeks God the same way? A little scared of dying? Well, for the HSH (heaven sighted human) your birth was good and your death is even better. We go home. We walk across the threshold. The day we enter in to our Father’s house. That is the day of ultimate triumph. Yet, honestly, it is a day we fear and a day we dread. We say in our heart, let’s postpone this as long as possible. Let us have a full length of days. And I am right there.

Now verse 2:
..of mourning and feasting…sorrow is better than laughter…fools in mirth but the wise in mourning. Wow, this strikes against our sensibilities doesn’t it. (Why do I want to know about this reversal of what is to be desired. Wisdom should be easier.)

The way of mourning is the way that God has chosen to move to effect our redemption and our sanctification. Jesus accepted and was given over to the course of his life being destined to the Via Della Rosa. The man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Do we not, really understand joy and the basis for our joy but in the house of mourning and not in the house of mirth. It is in weeping that we learn to contemplate the glory of God. In mourning we understand the peace of God which passes understanding.

Verse 3:
It is not that laughter is bad and the other good. No. This is the comparison of the good to the better. It is better to experience sorrow than laughter. Laughter is to be done often and loved in its place. But it is better for our growth to ….


Well, it is stated plainly right here and seems quite simple;

For by a sad countenance the heart is made better.

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. hmmmm...

Verse 8:
The end is better than the beginning …patience is better than the proud

Verse 10:

Verse 13:
Think about the work of God. Don’t just observe it. Evaluate it, think about it. To seek it’s meaning and arrive at some sort of understanding. That is our task. To observe the capacity and doings of God. So we will come to a fuller appreciation of the character of God.

We have to learn, beloved, how to think theologically. Which we are through the Qoheleth's words.

Who can make straight what is crooked…

Verse 14:
Prosperity and adversity…consider the both of them. God has appointed the one as well as the other.
So, here is the Sovereignty issue coming across again. We are called to, in wisdom, consider the work of God. Not just Creation but the work of God in history. This is a call to reflect on the Providence of God.

Who is the author of all things mirthful and joyful?

I have tended to always take the stance that when things are good and joyful then my confidence in God is heightened. When good things happen to me. I will then spew forth thanksgiving and praise. Thank you God for this wonderful thing.
We see the hand of God when we pray earnestly and God says, yes.
But isn’t it amazing that when we want something and we pray and desire it and the answer is no, we are surrounded by doubt and the notion of---where is He? Here in this verse, if you’re wise, you will consider both. God is as sovereign in the no as He is in the yes. God is displaying His providence as much in tragedy as He is in prosperity. His sovereign rule is manifested either way.

Earlier men and women knew a secret that seems less understood today. That these men and women knew pain and tragedy much more closely than we do today. They had a high view of God because they had so much pain. They were forced to see the hand of God in the midst of their difficulties. This is why history has almost always made me run from the fact that God owns history. It is so…

And right about now I am getting a little perturbed at all these lessons on this subject. And here it is again in Ecc 7. It comes up again and again and again and again. God’s hand is in affliction. As well as the other. God is made manifest in the dark side of life also. It is said so frequently in scripture that I wonder why it is so hard to get it into my blood stream. To get a hold of it.

(Why do I often try to shut myself off from considering this? To avoid this repeated lesson about my life and it’s various situations. Why do I look for an escape when possible. An avenue of pleasure that will dull the fears and the aches that I carry daily while wondering if my life is somehow futile and unprofitable. A blur in the space of time.)

But the wise looks for the finger of God. Whether in the house of mourning or the house of mirth. In all things that take place…there is this condition of the perspective of above and below. (This is why you and I are exploring this book. Maybe there is a calling and gifting for you and I to share this with others who want WISDOM like this also.)

And finally: Verse 1 of Chapter 8

Who is like a wise man…interpretation…face shine…

We are saying and seeing here that we are not being taught here to be doer and stern faced with a sorrowful disposition. Solomon sets us up to encounter the triumph of God’s greatness, the majesty of His purpose and the joy in the heart of those that know this is our Father’s world. When we understand that He is in charge. When we UNDERSTAND the wisdom of God---it changes the countenance of our heart and faith. For example, I’ve seen women I know, radiant in there painful situation. She has something about her. It is not that she is out of touch with her surroundings and dippy concerning her reality but that she transcends it. Those are people that have wisdom. They have an understanding of the things of God. It changes the look on your face.

How is my face and demeanor? How wise am I today because I just went over this?

Parts taken from a book by R.C. Sproul
C.S. Lewis

There are many good books on this deep deep enterprise we are on. Here in scripture we are looking at a source from God’s own Spirit, in writing, sitting there for us to pry open the door and dust off the confusing aspects therein.

  • Ecclesiastes 11:5-6: You cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things(v5). Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. 6 Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.


in 5---Maker/makes translated from: 'asah; to do, to work, to deal, to produce
Work/activity: ma'asah See the similarity?

‘asah is also a verb in the creation account. Though there are 6 or 7 I think to express different processes of God’s accounting of himself.

In 6---Does this imply that we should work all thru our waking hours? Or then, what is he trying to render as true and appropriate in our daily cycles? Here is sowing again. Test me on what sowing here is trying to express.

In 5 there are some things in life that, try as we might, we will never fully understand. This is Solomon's point in the verses before us today. We don't know which course the wind will take, or how bones are formed in a tiny fetus, but it happens anyway. And why? Because God is at work in everything, and the best thing we can do is trust Him. Modern-day science has cleared up many of the things that were mysteries to the people who lived thousands of years ago, but we are still faced with a good many unexplained phenomena.

Don’t Disturb

In 6 however, whether mysteries can be explained or not - we must carry on living. "Sow in the morning and don't be idle in the evening" is Solomon's next word. He is not saying, of course, that we ought to work all through the day, or that it is wrong to have a time of leisure and relaxation; rather, he is pointing out the benefits of having other interests besides work. There is something wrong in the lives of those who, having finished their day's work, hang a sign on the door of their lives that says: "Do Not Disturb." If, after your day's work, you are too tired to focus on something else then perhaps you ought to re-evaluate that part of your lifestyle. (It's easy for me to tell you that because I've done it. Or it may be that I just thought about doing it. Don’t disturb me, I’ll think about it later.)

Some other aphorisms

  1. the essence of good taste is never to be offended by bad taste
  2. politics is theology applied
  3. Linus: I love mankind it's people I can't stand. But widom says that mankind or humanity stinks but humans can do good.
  4. I want to rid evil from the world -- but -- I don't want to get my hands dirty. Here it says work towards something.
  5. What to say when in doubt: the tough truth rather than the hapless lie?
  6. Peter appealed to 3 matters on the historical record; 1) miracles of Jesus 2) the resurrection 3) fulfillment of OT prophecy.

The Chronicles of Narnia and Lewis’ Philosophy, “There is a Tao of Narnia.”

Tao is the term that C. S. Lewis uses to describe “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false.”
In other words, the Tao of Narnia is what theologians call natural law—the belief that moral truths are present in the natural world that can be known by all, which, in Narnia, includes dwarves, fauns, centaurs, and mice.
As Mosteller notes from his book, Lewis does not argue for the Tao in his Narnia books; he illustrates it. Accepting the Tao involves three things:

  1. “ A commitment to an objective moral order that is independent of what I or anyone else thinks;
  2. an openness to moral development only within the Tao, and
  3. a willingness to follow the Tao in all situations.”
The characters in Prince Caspian illustrate various responses to the Tao. For example, the valiant mouse Reepicheep wholeheartedly accepts the Tao and strives to live by it—even at the loss of his tail.
By contrast, King Miraz denies that loyalty to his nephew Caspian, the true king of Narnia, is a valid moral demand. Yet, he demands unswerving loyalty from his own men. In other words, Miraz tries to pick and choose which elements of the Tao he wants to live by. But as Mosteller notes, this is impossible because “all parts of the Law rest on the same self-evident moral axioms; any moral values the picker-and-chooser may appeal to have no authority outside the Tao as a whole.”

We also have the dwarf Nikabrik, who wants to conjure up the White Witch for help in overturning Miraz. Nikabrik is the ultimate pragmatist: To him, moral truth is whatever works. As Mosteller observes, Nikabrik fails to realize that the Tao is not just one morality among many: “It is the only morality—Aslan’s Owner’s Manual for true success and fulfillment, for Humans and Talking Beasts alike.”

These days—as in Lewis’s time—schools routinely teach that there is no objective moral truth: Morality is subjective, a matter of just personal preferences. And then they wonder why kids lie, cheat, and steal. As Lewis himself observed, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue . . . We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

Stories like Prince Caspian reveal, in the most exciting and dramatic way, that there is an objective moral law known to, and binding upon, us all. May we see the movie and come away as brave as Reepicheep and noble as the Lion.

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