The Mysterious Ways of God - The Anxious Ways of Man
There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. And I commend joy, for man has nothing better 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.
When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Building a Biblical Premise
"In life, in nature, in love, and in our humanity, God reveals who He is to us in Christ. Yet certainly we see before us so many profound elements of mystery within our activity and pursuit of God."
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
The Key to Life's Mysteries are Found in God - Not in the Wisdom or Actions of Man.
God is as Much a Mystery to Us as He is a Revelation... Don't be Anxious, Both Will Lead us to Him.
There are many events and circumstances in our life that are difficult to understand, including when bad things happen to good people and when good things happen to those who do evil (chapter 8:14). For many of us, the unpredictability or lack of control of these events and circumstances too often produces genuine fear and crippling anxiety. The human response of fear is used in scripture in different forms including respect and awe.
Proverbs 1:7, 29
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.
However, anxiety tends to be focused on personal desires or the need for control, and is often projected into the future (8:6, 16-17). As seen in those verses, anxiety can cause sleepless nights. Whereas fear may motivate us to action, we know that anxiety produces both heaviness of heart and that it will ultimately provide no relief to any situation.
Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down,
but a good word makes him glad.
In fact, Proverbs 24:19-20 and Psalm 37:1-9 tell us that anxiety is directly linked to envy, jealousy, and even the manipulation of others.
Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out. Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
Solomon lays out a basic human problem of accepting what we can and cannot control as we toil under the sun. The unpredictability of life events and circumstances are not only difficult to understand but is often beyond our control. Solomon illustrates this in verse 8,
“No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.”
In essence, Solomon is saying that we are helpless to predict nature, our lives, or our dealing with others including our superiors and those with authority. But this is a difficult concept for many of us to accept - we have culturally trended to rebelling against it. Instead, when dealing with others, we prefer to practice something called external control psychology. Psychiatrist and developer of Reality Therapy and Choice Theory William Glasser, first introduced the idea that people use external control psychology to get the people in their lives to do things they don’t want to do. In an effort to control our environment, Glasser believes that we practice this basic psychology: “Punish the people who are doing wrong or what we do not like, so they will do what we say is right and acceptable; then reward them, so they keep doing what we want them to do.”
If we human beings do not accept our own limitations and humbly trust in the sovereignty of God (chapter 12:13), we will be left with very few options. Anxiety manifests in many ways - all are immobilizing. Some folks express their anxiety by attempting to plan out all possible scenarios in their lives as a way to calm the fear they feel and experience. Others will try to command and control those closest to them as a way of protecting themselves or others from harm. Some also experience a desire to control others as a personal attempt to relieve their own anxiety. This line of thinking is commonly practiced every day as a pervasive pattern of resolving situations that seem beyond our control. Extreme cases include physical symptoms, or closed doors and dark rooms. Is this what Solomon is referring to when he references the “schemes” of man in chapter 7:29?
See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.
He personally wrestles with this issue of control and the fact that justice is not always delivered to those who do evil in chapter 8:11. In verse 12, he instructs us that even though we cannot understand or control our environment; that is not to be our focus. Instead he counsels that if we fear God and obey His commands, wisdom will be given to us.
In the field of secular psychology there are many different theories on the causes of anxiety - they include chemical, genetic, social, and environmental factors as causes and contributors. I came across this summary from the brilliant work of Austrian Psychotherapist Alfred Adler, who used the following logic to illustrate the core cause of anxiety.
If What is equal to What should be… Contentment
If What is greater than What should be... Satisfaction
If What is less than What should be... Anxiety
In this model, if a person sees a discrepancy between how they are and how they should be, then anxiety is the by-product. For example, if a student sees himself as lacking the adequate intelligence to be in college and is given a large and difficult assignment, then anxiety is the result of this felt discrepancy.
This chapter of Ecclesiastes, offers a different solution for dealing with one’s seemingly uncontrollable and sometimes unjust environment than experiencing anxiety. Solomon seems to support the notion that we must first accept the reality of our own finite human wisdom and understanding. In Ecclesiastes 3:11 and 8:17 we are instructed that we cannot understand God’s plan from the beginning all the way to the end. Although many of us intellectually understand that God has the power of life and death, we often have difficulty accepting and embracing this truth. Instead of simply conceding and accepting the anxious ways of man those who fear God and obey his commands can rest in the sovereignty of God in response to their fear. Instead of allowing anxiety to weigh heavily upon us, we find that His consolation can bring great relief and joy to our souls. Joy is a much richer form of happiness, despite uncertain life events and unknown circumstances the bible promises us that deep and sustainable joy can be found in following God’s commands because these paths are the ones God has set for us (verse 15). As a result we are now instead free to experience the joy and peace promised in Scriptures despite our disappointments with our current reality. Using the logic of Alfred Adler to support foundational and biblical truth the contrast between the mysterious ways of God and the anxious ways of man would look like this.
Anxious Ways of Man
If What is less than What should be... Anxiety (attempts to determine and control the unpredictability and uncertainty of life's events and circumstances).
Mysterious Ways of God
If What is less than What should be... Assurance (choosing to trust/fear God and rest in the sovereignty of God through the uncertainty and unpredictability of life's events and circumstances (Isaiah 26:3-4, Psalm 139:16)