Ep.311: Paul and the Zombie Apocalypse.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

In the 1968 horror movie, Night of the Living Dead, zombies invaded the world. They were animated corpses without soul or spirit, half dead and half alive, ghoulish characters, driven to eat human flesh. Yuk.

In Ephesians Paul says, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live . . . gratifying the cravings of the flesh, following its desires and thoughts” (Eph 2:2-5). 

Does that nail zombies, or what? People dead in sin, animated by the spirit of disobedience, driven to gratify fleshly cravings (Eph 2:3). A strange description of zombie-people half dead and half alive. 

Do you think that’s what Paul means, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins?”

The Message Bible doesn’t use Paul’s metaphor of people dead and alive at the same time. It says, “you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience” (Eph 2:1-2).

One evangelical explanation of Paul’s metaphor says we are composed of body, soul, and spirit, but the spirit part is dead if you’re not saved. Sounds zombie-like to me: the body is active, but the spirit is dead. This explanation says when you are born again, God raises your spirit from the dead. 

But not so fast.

Paul doesn’t see it that way. He doesn’t say a Christian’s spirit is raised from the dead to a perfect life. He tells Christians to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit (2 Cor 7:1). Being born again is great, but it doesn’t immediately cure the problems in my spirit. I still struggle with greed, anger, envy, and lust. Paul urges me to cleanse my spirit, to get it into a cold shower with soap and shampoo. 

However, Paul’s words do nicely point out some zombie features of my pre-Christian state. I lived in the universe of me, where I was boss, where I was driven by the cravings of my sinful nature. I was dead to God and God was dead to me. 

I thought I was doing what I wanted, but I was mostly a zombie slave to the flesh-eating, relationship-destroying intuitions of my sinful self. 

But now, through Christ, I reject the God-is-dead philosophy. I’ve discovered it was me who was dead in trespasses and sins. Since God has inhabited my life, he has been renovating. He’s unstopping the plumbing so I can flush out the excrement. He’s rewiring the electricity so I can turn on the lights. He’s transforming my spirit to make me holy.  

Let’s pray. 

Our father, I neither imagined or wanted your renovations in my life. I thought freedom was being free from you. I thought my cravings were the key to satisfaction. I mistook my confused intuitions for sound conclusions. 

But in your mercy, you took the zombie me, and clothed me with a healthy mind and a new spirit and a longing for a life of wholeness and love. 

Continue your work in me. Save me from a zombie apocalypse. Bring me into your kingdom and your glory forever. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.310: Paul, Marx, and Opiate Addiction.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Philip Yancey describes a Bible college reunion, writing:
“. . . my classmates speak in phrases we learned as students: ‘God is giving me the victory . . . I can do all things through Christ . . . All things work together for good . . . I’m walking in triumph.’ Yet they speak a different vocabulary when relating their lives after college. Several suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, and others are clinically depressed. One couple recently committed their teenage daughter to a mental institution.”

Yancey says, “I wince at the disconnect between these raw personal stories and the spiritual overlay applied to them.”  (p. 294) 

I wince with him, and think of Karl Marx’s words, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed . . ., the heart of a heartless world . . . . It is the opium of the people.” (Wikipedia article Opium of the People, quoting Marx in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the Right.) 

The apostle Paul was a prime candidate for pain relief via opium. He said, “Five times I received of the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have gone without sleep, I have known hunger and thirst, I have been cold and naked” (2 Cor 11:24-27, excerpts). 

Listen now to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and ask, “Is he overdosing on religious opiates to dull his sense of pain?” 

Paul prays,
  I have not stopped giving thanks for you,
      remembering you in my prayers.
  I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father,
      will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation
        so that you may know him better.
  I pray that the eyes of your heart will be enlightened
      so that you may know
        the hope to which he has called you,
        the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
        and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph 1:16-19a)

Doesn’t sound like the prayer of a homeless man looking for a fix. Nor of a heroin-induced escape from pain. This prayer comes from one who lived fully, who found a savior and a cause, who invested his life in things seen and unseen. Paul found in the unseen Christ something Marx was never able to see. 

At his college reunion, Yancey winced at the discrepancy between religious bromides and harsh realities. He quoted his unbelieving brother, “What is real, and what is fake?”  Yancey concludes, “I know of no more honest book than the Bible, which hides none of its characters’ flaws.” (p. 295). 

And how does this apply to me? Is prayer my opium to avoid life’s pain? Or does it give me access to another reality, where hope calls, and a glorious inheritance beckons, and the power of the resurrection awaits? 

Let’s pray. 

O God of our Lord Jesus Christ, O glorious father,
  give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation to know Christ better.
Enlighten the eyes of our hearts, that we may see
    the hope to which you call us,
    the riches of your glorious inheritance in us who believe . . .
    that we may see your incomparably great power for all your children,
      the same power that raised Christ from the dead
      and seated him at your right hand, 
       far above all rule and authority, dominion, and power,
      and every name that can be named,
          both in this age and the age to come.

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.309: Grand Visioning, Ordinary Living.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

As I read chapter 1 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I find he uses striking superlatives to create a magnificent vision of the Christian life. 

Paul says God’s grace is glorious, lavish, and freely given. We are part of his world-encompassing plan to work out everything the way he wants it. He made an expensive downpayment on our future, giving us the Holy Spirit as promise and proof we will participate in his world-changing future.

Paul says God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing (not just a smattering) in the heavenly realms in Christ. 

I meditate on this greatness while I wash dirty dishes. While I mow our tired lawn. While I walk the dog and pick up after him. While I scrub the car at the carwash. 

My life seems very ordinary. Is it really connected to the grand vision and countless spiritual blessings Paul writes about?

Jesus didn’t live an ordinary life. His was extraordinary–healing the sick, sighting the blind, freeing captives. But Jesus-in-me doesn’t do those miracles. If he did, I’d be healthy, visionary, and free! 

I think John the Baptist felt much as I do, when he was in prison and sent a message to Jesus asking, “Are you really the one who is coming?” 

Like John, Paul was a common Roman prisoner when he wrote Ephesians about his grand vision. I wonder about Paul in prison. Did he lose touch with reality there, substituting spiritual fantasies about the heavenlies to escape the poverty of his life on earth? 

Or did Paul live in two realities at once? Perhaps he believed God was in charge of his mediocre prison existence and his future inheritance as God’s son. 

What does that say about my ordinary life? Evangelical books give me advice about closing the gap between my daily experience and my riches in Christ. Most of them say, Try harder. Try harder to believe. Try harder to love your neighbor. Make a plan to study the Bible. Limit your social media and try more prayer! Just try harder

Methinks that’s the path to madness. Hard work might move the needle on my life from mediocre to uninspired. But what I really need is not incremental improvement but inspiration. I need something to enable me to live out Paul’s grand vision. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, once again I am pained by the gap between my ordinary experience and Paul’s glorious vision of the Christian life. I am unable to close that gap. Self-improvement books and projects aren’t much help. 

Perhaps it’s not about how I can up up my game and become better. Perhaps it’s not about techniques to connect me with your reality. Nor about ways to improve my spiritual perceptions and obedience. 

Perhaps it’s not about me at all. Maybe it’s about Christ. Maybe you want to make him  the center of everything, even my life. 

O God, John found peace in prison while Jesus preached and healed and freed others. Paul found peace in prison writing about your world-changing plans and activities. Help me to find peace as I mow the lawn and do the dishes and meditate on Paul’s grand themes. 

Draw me out of myself, into the new reality you are creating in Christ. Do in me your  invisible work, preparing me to exchange my ordinary existence for the extraordinary reality I do not yet see. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.308: Today’s Questions Answered Yesterday.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

To conclude our thoughts on the Book of Ecclesiastes, I want to ask the author a few questions. 

1. First question. What do you think of Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign? 
   Ecclesiastes says,
      Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
          For it is unwise to ask such questions. (Eccl 7:10)

Hmmm. Didn’t expect that! And question #2:

2. Should we fear death? 
   Ecclesiastes says,
      There is a time for everything,
        and a season for every activity under the heavens,
        a time to be born and a time to die. (Eccl 3:1-2)

3. Next question. What do you think of prognosticators and pundits and podcasts, who pontificate about every topic under the sun?
  Ecclesiastes says, 
      Do not be quick with your mouth,
        do not be hasty in your heart
        to utter anything before God.
      God is in heaven
        and you are on earth,
        so let your words be few. (Eccl 5:2)
  I have spoken many words. Perhaps too many!

4. Another question: What do you think of Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, owner of Space-X and Tesla?
    Ecclesiastes says,
      I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
          wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
          or wealth lost through some misfortune.
      Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
          and as everyone departs naked. (Eccl 5:13-15)

   One day soon, it will be said of Elon Musk, “The emperor has no clothes.”  

5. Question #5: What do you think of the Internet’s vast treasury of knowledge? And of Wikipedia and modern science and universities?
    Ecclesiastes says,
      The more the words,
            the less the meaning,
            and how does that profit anyone? (Eccl 6:11)

You may have heard about the scientist who said, “When I was in school they taught that a million monkeys typing for a million years would not compose a single Shakespeare play. Now, thanks to the Internet, we’ve proved that it’s true.” I think Ecclesiastes would agree. A million monkeys typing for a million years. 

6. Next question. Do you believe the doctrine of original sin?
    Ecclesiastes says,
        This only have I found:
            God created humans upright,
            but they have gone in search of many schemes. (Eccl 7:29) 

7. And a question on meaning: In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the computer Deep Thought calculates that the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is 42. What do you think?
    Ecclesiastes says,
      I saw all that God has done.
      No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun.
      Despite all their efforts to search it out, 
           no one can discover its meaning.
      Even if the wise claim they know,
          they cannot really comprehend it. (8:17)

8. Ecclesiastes, do you believe in the law of cause and effect?
    Ecclesiastes says,
    I have seen something else under the sun: 
        The race is not to the swift,
            or the battle to the strong,
        nor does food come to the wise,
            or wealth to the brilliant
            or favor to the learned,
        but time and chance happen to them all. (Eccl 9:11)

9.  And a final question: Is wisdom stronger than folly?
    Ecclesiastes says,
    As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,
        so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. (Eccl 10:1)

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Ecclesiastes tell us to:
     Remember your Creator
        in the days of your youth. . .
        before the silver cord is severed,
        and the golden bowl broken;
      Before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
        and the wheel broken at the well,
      and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
        and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Eccl 12:1, 6-7)

Yes, Lord, our lives often feel like a broken wheel bumping through life; like a golden bowl easily broken, like a pitcher soon to be shattered. 

Yet you have set eternity in our hearts. You have put this treasure in jars of clay. As we live in our fragile and failing bodies, help us drink the water of everlasting life. Help us hold the treasure of righteousness and truth. Help us remember you, our creator, all our days. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.307: Confused Philosopher?

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Today, I ask five questions, and listen to answers from the Book of Ecclesiastes. 

First question: Is it better to hate life or to enjoy it? Ecclesiastes 3 says: 
  – I hated life, because the work I did was grievous to me (v. 17).
  – It also says, A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil. I see this too is from the hand of God (v. 24). 

Second question: What makes human life meaningful as we journey toward certain death? Ecclesiastes 5 says:
  – The fate of humans is like that of animals; as one dies, so dies the other . . . humans have no advantage over animals (v. 19). 
   – It also says, God has made everything beautiful in its time. And he has set eternity in their hearts (v. 11). 

Third question: What’s better? Being dead or alive? Or is it better never to be born at all?  Ecclesiastes 4 says: 

  – I declared that the dead
      who had already died,
    are happier than the living,
      who are still alive. 

    But better than both
      is the one who has never been born,
    who has not seen the evil
      that is done under the sun (vv. 2-3). 

 – It also says, Two people are better than one
      because they have a good return for their labor;
    if either of them falls down, 
      one can help the other up (vv. 9-10). 

Fourth question: Should we despair in the face of life’s injustices? Ecclesiastes 8 says: 
  – There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked get what the righteous deserve (v. 14).
  – It also says, So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days that God has given them under the sun (v. 15). 

And a fifth question: Should we keep trying to figure life out? Ecclesiastes 12 says:  
  – Of making many books there is no end, much study wearies the body (v. 12).
  – It also says, Here is a conclusion of the matter:
      Fear God and keep his commandment,
          for this is the duty of all.
      God will bring every deed into judgment,
          including every hidden thing,
          whether  good or evil. 

Let’s pray. 

O father, we live in tension:
– between present life and pending death
– between today’s decisions and eternity’s call
– between despair that nothing changes and faith that Christ makes all things new 
– between working to build wealth and legacy, and pausing to enjoy the fruit of our labor

O father, Ecclesiastes the philosopher tells us there is no escape from these tensions. No way to resolve them. Teach us then with him to embrace life’s paradoxes. As he says,
  Do not be over-righteous,
      or overwise –
      why destroy yourself?
  Do not be over-wicked,
      and do not be a fool – 
      why die before your time?

   It is good to grasp one,
      and not let go of the other.
      Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes (7:16-18). 

Yes, Father, help us embrace life with its tensions and paradoxes. Help us accept the evil within and around us, yet not give way to wickedness. Help us grow in righteousness and wisdom, without trying to be over-righteous and over-wise. Help us hear the whisper of eternity you set in our hearts. Help us live these fleeting lives with integrity and joy, as we journey toward eternity. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.306: Trudging Through Ecclesiastes.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

In our last episode, we looked at Ecclesiastes’ shock jock style of presentation. We heard the author complain about the elusive, vapor-like quality of life. But then he showed us the other side of his personality. Not the shock jock, but the quiet, reasonable teacher who makes constructive suggestions about how to live. 

The book of Ecclesiastes often stumps those who look for a single, consistent theme. That’s because if you listen when the author is shouting, if you focus on his tirades about life’s brevity, if you are shocked by his comparison that humans die and turn to dust like animals, you might miss what else he says. 

True, life is a one way trip to the grave. Nothing new there. And you know that luck and circumstances often trump wisdom. But when the author stops shouting, he presents a reasonable question: What might make life meaningful? Not stuff we can’t control like health, wealth, success, or a memorable legacy. Rather, meaning is found in a warm and loving home life, in the simple enjoyment of good people, good food, good wine, and God’s good creation. 

This positive theme is easy to underemphasize, or even miss entirely, because the book reads like a boy scout hike in the mountains. They trudge for 55 minutes, looking down at the rocky path, complaining about the heavy pack, aching muscles, dry throat, and tired feet. Then they take a 5-minute break for a drink and a snack. They see the awesome view behind them and the glorious mountains ahead. What’s not to enjoy?  

That’s how Ecclesiates is written. A long stretch plodding through pessimism and despair, then a quick break for hope and light, then back to the trudging.   

Let’s follow this pattern in chapters 1 and 2. The unhappy philosopher trudging on his rocky path opens Ecclesiastes with the complaint: “Meaningless, meaningless, it’s all meaningless” (1:2), or as I prefer to translate it, “Vapor, smoke, and mirrors. All of life is vapor, smoke, and mirrors.” 

The trudging author recounts his search for something new. But there is nothing new to find. Been there, done that! He’s seen it all before. He thought wisdom would bring satisfaction, but it brought grief. He tried wine and folly, but no satisfaction there. He tried building a legacy of houses and gardens, but he realized a fool might get them and let his legacy rot.  

So he turns up the volume on his complaint lamenting, “I hated life, because the work done under the sun is grievous to me. It’s all futile, chasing after the wind” (Eccl 2:17). 

And then he takes a break. He looks around and catches the view. Completely changing his tone, he says, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their work” (2:24), and he says, “To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness” (2:26). 

Don’t get hung up on the author saying he hated life. Yes, life passes like a vapor. Our work disappears in smoke and death. It’s an illusion that we can outrun the decay and win the race of life. That message is loud, and humbling, and realistic. 

But the author tells us what to do about it. Focus on the simple pleasures God gives, not on the emptiness of life, he says. Food and wine, family and friends are sources of enjoyment, antidotes to existential dread, a cure for world weariness and despair. Don’t spend your time resenting the futility of life or trying to overcome it; instead, be present in the moment, enjoy what God has given you. Let go of your need to control. 

Let’s pray. 

O father, we live in fear as war destroys cities, as natural and man-made disasters wreak havoc on creation, as our bodies age and our possessions decay and the world we know passes away in smoke and vapor. 

With the author of Ecclesiastes, we leave these big problems to you. We refresh ourselves with food instead of worry, with wine instead of angst, with pleasant conversation instead of fear, with trust instead of world-weariness. 

O you who created it all. Teach us in our fleeting lives to enjoy our time in these bodies of clay, to rejoice in our circle of friends and family, to love this planet that spins in your universe. And when our journey ends, may we find the forever home you promised. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.305: Biblical Shock Jock.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Have you ever listened to a shock jock? A disc jockey with outlandish opinions, offensive commentary, and melodramatic exaggerations? I think the author of Ecclesiastes may be part shock jock. 

Life is random, he yelps. Meaning is elusive, boys and girls! All ya get outta life is to die! 

Perhaps, like me, this author got tired of being told that everything works out for good. Maybe he felt his readers had fallen into mindless optimism. Perhaps he just enjoyed being contrarian. 

Whatever the motive, Ecclesiastes emphasizes a tired-of-life philosophy: negative and pessimistic. Seen it all before, he says. Nothing new under the sun. 

But the author states another point of view. One that doesn’t jump off the page and slap or shock us. A quieter message, more positive and hopeful. He introduces it with the phrase, “There is nothing better for a person than to do this. . .“, and then he tells us what to do. 

If you are studying Ecclesiastes to find the author’s single consistent message you will probably pick those shocking negatives. But not so fast. Don’t miss the affirming positives like this: Eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this fleeting life that God has given you under the sun” (9:7-9).  

When my brother was dying of cancer, and his days were fleeting, he and his wife celebrated the small joys of life and they used their best china every day. 

That’s the spirit Ecclesiastes encourages. Don’t waste time and energy moaning about life’s unfairness, the lack of progress, or an inability to leave a legacy. The author says, Life is fleeting, but it can be good.  Enjoy your work. Dress up occasionally. Celebrate with food and wine. Enjoy your family and friends. Use your best china now and then. 

Get a life!

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we envy those who are happier, healthier, wiser, and more successful. We resent the shortness of life, the difficulty of getting ahead, the confusion trying to understand what to do. 

Thank you for Ecclesiastes’ advice. For its warning that disappointment follows those who work too hard, study too diligently, and plan too incessantly. 

Thank you for the encouragement to be quietly present to the good gifts life gives. To joyful relationships with imperfect people. To work that gives simple contentment. To food and wine that offer brief but satisfying pleasure.

O father, our life is fleeting, its meaning is elusive. Help us in our years under the sun to live wisely and to enjoy the gifts you give.   

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.304: Evil and Madness.

Ep.303: Evil and Madness.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Last week we looked at Ecclesiastes’ comment about randomness. “Not to the swift is the race, nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance happen to them all” (Eccl 9:11). Indeed. Sometimes luck trumps speed and strength, sometimes evil overcomes good, sometimes our best plans fail. 

But it’s not only time and chance that make life random. One outcome is certain: We all die. However many breaths we breathe, however much stuff we collect, life will soon end and we will lose everything. 

Remember that bumper sticker? “The one with the most toys when he dies wins.” Perhaps. But what, exactly, has he won?   

Ecclesiastes says,
  The fool and I share the same fate.
        Neither will be long remembered;
        Both will be forgotten.
  Like the fool, the wise die too. (Eccl 2:15-16) 

And all we’ve worked for, all we’ve won, all we’ve collected, all we’ve built–we leave it all behind (Eccl 2:17-21). After my father died, we cashed in his little coin collection and used his stamp collection to mail letters. My small library means a lot to me, but will my family care? Value Village, here we come. 

The famous poem from Ecclesiastes says:
  There is a time for everything
      and a season for each activity:
      a time to be born and a time to die (Eccl. 3:1). 

But later, the author expresses regret at the leveling effect of death: “Surely the fate of human beings is like the fate of animals. Humans have no advantage. All come from dust, to dust all return.” (Eccl 3:20). 

We  die, we are buried, the worms eat us. A dog dies, it is buried, the worms eat it. Who wins? Man or dog?

Hardly an optimistic philosophy, you say? No, but realistic. As Ecclesiastes summarizes, “People are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterwards they join the dead” (Eccl 9:3). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Ecclesiastes relentlessly describes the problem of life: Evil and madness reign, then we die. And where are you in this troubled story? Do you supervise time and chance and death? Are they your servants

Teach us to value life, though it is temporary and random. Teach us to live rightly, not madly. Teach us to think soberly about death. As we journey briefly in this world, as our bodies decay, as we submit to time and chance–teach us to hope in your promises. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.303: Time and Chance Happen to Them All.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Last week, we looked at Ecclesiastes and the meaning of chess. To humans, chess is a game. To a computer, it’s just another program. The author of Ecclesiastes programmed himself for maximum wisdom, pleasure, and wealth. But nothing satisfied. 

Part of his disappointment was discovering that time disintegrates what we build and the randomness of life sucks the joy out of success. 

The author says, “I hated all the things I toiled for under the sun, because I have to leave them to someone. Who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet, they will control the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill.” 

Picture the writer building his legacy: houses and land, lucrative investments, a book on his habits of success. But how long will his legacy last? What if some fool takes over his business, and runs it into the ground? His book may be briefly popular, but it will soon go into the bargain bin, followed shortly by the blue recycling bag. 

The author feels pain at life’s randomness, the chances he can’t control, the unexpected events that make or break his plans. Ecclesiastes says:
    The race is not to the swift
      nor the battle to the strong,
    nor does food come to the wise
      or wealth to the brilliant
      or favor to the learned;
    but time and chance happen to them all (Eccl 9:11).

Yes! There’s the element of dumb luck that contributes to everyone’s outcomes.

The author also says,
  Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:
      As fish are caught in a cruel net,
            or birds are taken in a snare,
      so people are trapped by evil times
            that fall unexpectedly upon them (Eccl 9:12).

People sit long hours at gambling tables, hoping time and chance will favor them. But it’s not only gamblers who roll the dice. Life itself is a gamble. 

Our best laid plans run amuck. Amazon and Netflix stock surged in two years of pandemic, and now they are falling down. Under Bush, the  Taliban were evicted from Afghanistan; now they’re back under Biden. A friend’s parents planned a lovely retirement–but one of them got Alzheimers. 

Time and chance happen to all of us. There are no hot tips in life’s horse race, no sure-fire medicines, no safe harbors for my finances. 

What to do? Should I factor luck and the clock into my life plan? Or is there a better way of going about living? 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we hoped you would control the randomness of the world for us, that you would stop the tsunamis and protect your people from war and make us free to serve you. But time and chance happen to us all. 

Teach us to be patient with ourselves, with others, with the world around us. Help us lose our overwhelming need to control. Help us go with the flow in good times and evil. 

Teach us how to live in this world you have given us. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.302: Ecclesiastes and the Meaning of Chess.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Today we continue our series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Last week, I questioned the New International Version’s translation which says, “Meaningless, meaningless, it’s all meaningless.” 

Today, let’s think about meaning by asking, What’s the meaning of chess? 

It was a big deal in 1997 when IBM’s Deep Blue chess program beat Garry Kasparov, the reigning world champion. It was a major victory for artificial intelligence, and a huge win for IBM’s technical skills. But many chess players resented IBM’s arrogant intrusion into their favorite game because chess is a human game. The goal isn’t just to capture the opposing army. If all I want is to sacrifice pawns and kill the king, I can pitch my opponent’s pieces in the fire. 

Chess is a game, a microcosm of human civilization and war. It evokes the emotions of a thousand years of knights and castles, of medieval bishops, queens, and kings. Chess asks me, “Am I a pawn in this game of life? Will the church and politicians and army sacrifice me for their bigger aims?” 

Chess is recreation, a mental challenge, a battle of wits, an opportunity to develop skill. It is also a spectator sport. 

Computers that play chess don’t understand that. They have no memories of love and war, of victory and defeat. They just process information and execute a programmed strategy. 

Computer chess reminds me of a satellite navigation unit I had. Whenever I made a wrong turn the unit said with an annoyed tone, “Recalculating, recalculating.” I was on a journey, but my GPS wasn’t enjoying the trip. All it cared about was the math. 

So what does this have to do with Ecclesiastes and meaninglessness? 

The author of Ecclesiastes applied his “mathematical” mind, his computer mind, to the search for meaning. 

He tried gaining wisdom. But he discovered that “In much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge increases pain” (1:17-18). 

He tried maximum pleasure: wine, music, dancing, women. But he found no lasting satisfaction, no meaning there (2:1-9). 

He became obscenely wealthy and he used his money to build houses and vineyards and gardens and parks (2:4-7). But his life continued to fail the test of meaning.  

The problem was that the author played life like a computer program plays chess, like my GPS goes on a journey. He defined the goal played to win, but when he did, he didn’t know what the game meant. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we are players in this game of life. How often we have computed that better health, more money, better social connections, or more wisdom would give us a richer, fuller life. And maybe, just maybe, answer our nagging questions about meaning. 

But now we confess with the author of Ecclesiastes that a meaningful life is not gained by strategy and design. As the author discovered, all our accomplishments and all our experiences can leave us empty and dissatisfied.

Teach us then the true source of meaning. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube