Rejoice and enjoy the good life

Ecclesiastes is an enigmatic book on many fronts. It’s something of a mystery who wrote the thing: tradition claims it was Solomon, but there is evidence that it was someone else. It’s something of a question how to interpret it: there are more than a few passages within its pages that would seem fatalistic at best. And it’s something of a challenge what to do with it: how do you apply thoughts which are predominantly abstract and philosophical? But several months ago now, our small group embarked on a study of Ecclesiastes in an effort to understand the thing and apply it to our lives, and ever since then, I have been finding more and more wisdom and insight in its pages. So the other day, when my personal devotions’ word study on joy intersected with the book of Ecclesiastes, I was very much intrigued to see what a book which is known for refrains such as “Meaningless, meaningless” and “chasing after the wind” would have to say about joy. Today, in chapter 3, I ran across a wonderful nugget in verse 12:

“I know that there is nothing better for [men] than to rejoice and enjoy the good life.”

The statement is significant in my eyes for a couple of reasons. The first is the order in which things happen. So often, I tend to think of the matter of joy in the terms of the chicken and the egg. You know the old riddle: which came first? Of course, it’s a conundrum that we’ll probably never be able to solve unless someone somehow invents a time machine to travel back in time to see for themselves. And then we’ll probably not believe what they have to say. But the question that I’ve always pondered is very much similar: Which came first, the good life or the joy?

The author of Ecclesiastes, who I will assume for the sake of argument was Solomon, answers the question succinctly in this verse: “Rejoice and enjoy the good life.”

I find myself wondering if Solomon, in all his wisdom, fully understood the ramifications of such a statement. You see, in my mind, his words present an order of precedence: rejoicing comes before enjoying the good life. I need to rejoice even before I have the wonderful life which is, circumstantially, enjoyable. That’s challenging. And I also see in his words a causal relationship: rejoicing brings about enjoying the good life. What a revolutionary concept! Suddenly, rejoicing – and joy – is not nearly as much a feeling as it is a decision. I decide to be joyful, to look down the road and realize that I will get the ultimate good – heaven – in the end, and that enables me to enjoy the good life.

Good stuff. But there’s more.

You see, although I virtually missed it on my initial consideration of the verse, I don’t know now how I could possibly overlook the significance of the phrase “enjoy the good life”! You see, again, a seemingly simple arrangement of three words contains within it a dramatic revelation: we’re supposed to enjoy the good life. The good life is to be distinguished from things such as the high life, the low life, and the feels-good life. It’s not about a life in which everything goes right and all things are hunky dory.  It’s the life that is characterized and governed by God’s absolute definition of good. And that is the life that we’re supposed to be enjoying.

But there’s a problem with that: the good life isn’t always hunky dory. It doesn’t always feel good. And it’s most certainly not always high. But we’re still supposed to enjoy it. In fact, quite often, maybe even more often than not, it’s downright hard. How does that work?

I guess it goes back to the whole order thing. Rejoice, and then I’ll be able to enjoy the good life, no matter how hard it may be.

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