If you were speaking with a negative, pessimistic person who commented frequently on the absurdity of life, would you be surprised when that person said, I commend joy? I know I would! That’s exactly how this statement should affect us as we read it from the Preacher’s lips in the book of Ecclesiastes. Come to think of it, though, I would on further reflection value this statement made by someone who understood absurdity and pain much more readily than I would if these words came from a person who was shallow and flippant in life.
And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. Eccl. 8:15
I began writing this blog three years ago, and when I started I wanted to find a title that would state something about what I believe and desire for my own life and for others. My desire was to communicate what I am pursuing with all my heart and what I need in the depth of my being. That’s when I remembered this phrase in Ecclesiastes. At that time I felt this phrase was an apt description and title, although I had never studied Ecclesiastes, though I had heard a sermon series on it a number of years ago.
Now, as I am at the conclusion of my first intense study through this book, teaching it to an adult Sunday School class, I have a much better handle on the author’s intent in using this phrase. I would like to use this and an upcoming post (or more) to reflect on joy in Ecclesiastes, beginning with this phrase and verse.
Getting back to the opening paragraph above, I would like to begin with this first point: joy is known and treasured and valued most by those who have also known and valued pain and sorrow and difficulty. The Preacher, the author of Ecclesiastes, is an excellent example of this truth.
He has seen those who have saved lose everything. He has seen the righteous person treated as if he were wicked. He has seen men who have everything they want but are not able to enjoy it. He has seen princes walking around like slaves. He has seen all the difficulty and absurdity of life that one would want to avoid, trying to find meaning in it all under the sun. And under the sun he has come up empty. If anyone could comment on joy, the Preacher can, and we would do well to listen to him.
J.R.R. Tolkien illustrates this truth well in the third part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King. He was able to understand joy because he had also understood pain. Tolkien lost his father in his early years, his mother at the age of 12. He served in WWI and saw the pain of war and the affect that it had on men. This pain informs how he wrote of the return of the hobbits back to the Shire, and the difficulty that they had, especially Frodo, of engaging back into civilian life.
His best description of joy after pain is found in The Return of the King, immediately after the ring is destroyed by Frodo. Written from Sam’s perspective, see this as the joy that is known fully only because of first knowing pain and heartache. Speaking of Frodo, Tolkien writes,
and in his eyes there was peace now, neither strain of will, nor madness, nor any fear. His burden was taken away. There was the dear master of the sweet days in the Shire. ‘Master!’ cried Sam, and fell upon his knees. In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy. The burden was gone. His master had been saved; he was himself again, he was free.
I commend joy because joy can only be known when the Savior, Jesus Christ, lifts the burden of sin from your life. Joy is known correctly only when you experience the joy of freedom from sin that can be understood through the forgiveness of sins experienced through the death of Jesus and his victory over sin and death and hell and Satan. Look to Jesus,
the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Heb. 12:2-3