I’ve been on this earth, living this futile life, long enough to have seen some pretty revolting things. A couple of years ago, I watched two good men die long before they should have from the same disease: pancreatic cancer.
Mike was about 60. He’d done all the right things in life. After serving in the Navy, he got married and raised three children. He worked hard and well building and maintaining roads in Kansas. Mike doted on his grandkids, kept his house in good repair, and grew some of the most stunning flowers you’d ever hope to see. He volunteered with the preschool kids at church and spent countless hours cutting out things and otherwise preparing for his and other classes on Sunday mornings.
George was in his 40s. A police detective, he wasn’t a guy who would ever rise to become the chief, but he also wasn’t the sort who would embarrass himself and his profession in some dreadful video. George worked his duty, but he tried to make the world better even as he arrested people. He left behind a loving wife and two teen sons, who, along with their baseball teams, sorely miss his presence.
I think of these two, who died in the same year, when I read today’s verse:
In my futile life I have seen everything: someone righteous perishes in spite of his righteousness, and someone wicked lives long in spite of his evil.Ecclesiastes 7:15
Although Hollywood has long made films that shock us with their ambivalent or even tragic endings, most of their fare and the TV stories that followed, has run against what the verse above suggests. What would Hollywood do? Think Walker, Texas Ranger. A bad guy does bad things. Ideally the bad guy does really bad things to really good people. Maybe he highjacks a bus load of nuns and little kids. He punches women and tells the kids that Santa isn’t real. This villain is a nasty fellow.
And in the end, Walker overcomes long odds to kick said bad guy in the face, preferably a number of times. There’s catharsis and a sense of cosmic justice. The little kids get ice cream, the nuns get whatever nuns want, and Walker’s crew winds up laughing around a table. God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.
That’s what Hollywood used to always do and what they mostly do today. Even when a beloved character dies at the close of a film today, it’s usually framed in a positive or understandable light. In 90 percent or more of Hollywood’s offerings, the world has to make sense.
But Ecclesiastes notes the reality that good men die young from cancer while dreadful people make billions of dollars at the expense of all manner of good and decent things. Life is, after all, futile.
Getting in Tune
So how does the follower of Jesus deal with these very un-Hollywood storylines? How do we reconcile ourselves to terrible people prospering while fine people suffer? I’d suggest three thoughts that can help us retain our confidence in a good and loving God even as things stink.
First, let’s never forget that Genesis 3 happened. We live in a fallen and sin-drenched world. From God’s holy perspective, Mike and George were filthy sinners. Anything good that happens to anyone should really be what surprises us and seems unfair, but of course we don’t want to look at ourselves that way.
Second, we mustn’t ignore the fact that we can’t see the entire playbook that God is using. We can’t know the causes, natural and supernatural, behind these events. We can’t know, and we shouldn’t pretend to know.
Third, we need to recall that our ultimate reward will not be meted out in this mortal life. I’m confident that even though people like Hitler and Stalin seemed to escape true justice, they will be dealt with in the proper manner.
None of that makes the loss of Mike or George any easier. But nobody said that this futile life would be easy.