Future Imperfect–Ecclesiastes 7:19-20

I think I can finally talk about it. The pain is not so fresh and so acute that I can now confront it and share my feelings with you. You see, as I mentioned elsewhere, my church’s pastor recently quit. We could say something less abrupt: He resigned. He followed God’s call to another work. But in the end, he quit.

That isn’t the painful thing, the thing I’ve been avoiding. Instead, I can now confess that my recently departed pastor was not perfect. There, I said it. He had flaws. Yes, he had many terrific qualities, but he had some negative ones as well. My guess is that if I’d worked directly for him on the staff, I’d know even more of those flaws. That’s where my mind goes this morning as I continue through Ecclesiastes.

Wisdom makes the wise person stronger
than ten rulers of a city.
There is certainly no one righteous on the earth
who does good and never sins.

Ecclesiastes 7:19-20

As I read these two proverbs in chapter 7, I’m inclined at first to think that they were simply leftovers from the list that populated 7:1-13. I’m also inclined to take them as separate and largely unrelated nuggets of wisdom. But as I reflect on my former pastor, I recognize that they belong right where they are and they speak to each other.

Over the last several entries, we’ve looked at how a person can walk a path of moderation between wickedness and self-righteousness. Here, Koheleth seems to be giving us some practical advice for living in a world that is between those two extremes. Let’s imagine my new pastor, whoever he might be.

Let’s say the church searches high and low, eventually calling Casper Clodfelter to serve in our pulpit. When he first arrives at the church, everybody will be swooning over Casper. We’ll want to invite him to go swimming to watch him walk on water. It’ll be ridiculous.

But then we’ll recognize that Casper has some horrible trait that we didn’t screen out in the search process: he doesn’t recycle, he’s a pre-trib, amillennialist, he pronounces “Haggai” strangely, or he occasionally yells at his kids. In short, we’ll discover that Pastor Clodfelter is, like us, a human being, fitting neatly into that description in Ecclesiastes 7:20.

Then will the wailing and despair begin. We’ve hired a mere human. There is, of course, hope. Wisdom–and for the Christian that includes the leading by the Holy Spirit–cannot make this person perfect, at least not in the time span we have available, but it can make him better. It can make him, if he started out as a wise man and thus a decent piece of material, a stronger one, “stronger than ten rulers of a city.”

One of the annoying things about my former pastor and my future, currently unknown, pastor is that he’s a great deal like me. He’s not perfect. He can’t be perfect this side of death. And that’s me as well. Try as I might, I cannot avoid sin completely. Despite my best efforts, I cannot pursue my best efforts–weird, eh?

But the hope here lies in the possibility afforded by wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of God. Neither my pastor nor I can hope to be perfect, but if I stay plugged in to the Spirit, if I take the pursuit of wisdom seriously, then I can hope to be a bit closer to that standard tomorrow than I am today. And happily, that’s what God calls us to do.