She was only ten years old when a random accident took her life. Decades later, her parents still grieve the loss of their daughter.
How could the unthinkable happen to this Christian family? Why this senseless tragedy?
The writer of Ecclesiastes has some wisdom to offer about the mysterious nature of life. (I’m grateful to the team at thebibleproject.com for the following insights.)
Thirty-eight times in the book, the Teacher repeats this phrase: “Hevel, hevel, everything is utterly hevel.”
In English Bibles, the Hebrew word “hevel” is usually translated “meaningless.” However, the word literally means vapor or smoke.
In other words, life is first of all temporary or fleeting. Like a wisp of smoke, it vanishes quickly. Second, life is an enigma or a paradox. Like vapor, you can’t grab onto it or control it.
Life is full of beauty and goodness, but then tragedy strikes. We’re wired with a strong sense of justice, yet injustice occurs again and again.
Life is unpredictable. It’s unstable. Trying to control it is like chasing after the wind.
The Teacher goes on to say the best way to live is by wisdom and the fear of the Lord, yet he admits that even this is “hevel.”
Even when we follow God, life doesn’t work the way it seems like it should.
Is this resonating with you?
I’m reading Job, a great book for illustrating the mysterious nature of life, as well as the drive within human nature to crack its code.
When Job is struck by calamity, his friends are sure they’ve figured out the formula as to why. Job protests their remarks and complains to God.
In the end, God speaks up, but does not explain anything about Job’s suffering. All we know for sure is that everybody was wrong in their conclusions.
Don’t we love to try to figure things out, though? Don’t we want to put things in neat little boxes so we can assure ourselves we have some semblance of control?
Here’s the thing: human beings don’t have the capacity to know how and why life works. It’s beyond our understanding and our control.
So how are we to deal with our limitations? What’s the best way to approach our fleeting, paradoxical life on earth?
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes goes on to talk about the “gift of God,” which is the simple enjoyment of the good things in life, such as family and friends, a good meal, or a pleasant day.
Instead of trying to control your life, he says, accept “hevel” –not that your life is meaningless, but that all of your life is totally out of your control.
In other words, walk in wisdom and the fear of the Lord, and enjoy life as it is, not as you think it should be.
This truth pierces me right now. I’ve faced some significant losses and big adjustments over the last few months. I feel disoriented.
I’ve heard plenty of teaching about persevering in faith for spiritual breakthrough. There’s truth to all of that, but there’s also truth to Ecclesiastes.
Most of the time, I have no idea what God is up to. So if I were to design a T shirt with my favorite slogan, it would say this: Embrace mystery.
Humble acceptance of “hevel,” along with gratitude for God’s good gifts, is the best way I can respond to what is out of my control –in other words, everything about my life.
So here’s the plan: instead of looking for spiritual formulas, I think I’ll savor some jasmine green tea. I’ll cuddle my grandkids. I’ll keep an eye out for the next glorious sunset.
How will you accept “hevel?”