Have you ever had to deal with that perfect food person? It’s the one who never violates a single dietary rule. This person worries if their calorie count for the day is too high and they worry if it is too low. They want to make sure that their macros are perfectly in balance and that they get enough of every trace element. That person wouldn’t think of eating gluten or refined sugar or non-organic produce. Simply being in the same room with high-fructose corn syrup causes this person to break out in a rash.
That’s who I think about when I read the passage for today. Yeah, this only applies to eating as I described it above, but it could apply to anything.
Don’t be excessively righteous, and don’t be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Don’t be excessively wicked, and don’t be foolish. Why should you die before your time?Ecclesiastes 7:16-17
I don’t really need to worry about being excessively righteous, but I suppose some people do. I don’t need to be invited to entertain a little bit wickedness, but again, I suppose that’s an issue for some.
So what in the world is this passage doing in here? We’ve established over the last few weeks that our author is not your typical Sunday-School teacher, but at this point he seems to have gone off the rails.
I struggle with these verses, but then I think of the food nazi described at the outset. There are others who live by a rigorous standard in other areas. The Pharisees who spread such cheer in the gospels are types out of this mold. They were so focused on obeying the laws and the interpretations of the laws and the interpretations of the interpretations that they couldn’t really understand the nuances. They didn’t recognize that healing somebody on the Sabbath was a way of honoring the Sabbath. Instead all they saw was the rule. That, I think, is excessive righteousness.
At the same time, we can learn to deal with our occasional mistakes. We’re going to be a little bit wicked. That’s just the nature of things, so we’re best off not paralyzing ourselves when our perfection is shattered.
Getting in Tune
If I’m going to take this passage and use it in a meaningful way, I believe that the first step is to determine which of these tendencies–excessive righteousness or excessive wickedness–is my greater temptation. I don’t think that Koheleth is inviting us to become lax, but he is telling us not to obsess on our behavior.
We are entirely capable of making an idol out of our “rightness” or of allowing our “wrongness” to cripple us. Instead, we should simply live as wisely and as righteously as we can manage.