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At the crossroads, toward the future

Ecclesiastes mirrors, in my view, a general feeling of people in our contemporary Western world. Life is meaningless, says the ordinary human being.

FEATURES AUTOR 273/Johannes_Reimer 10 DE OCTUBRE DE 2022 10:11 h
Photo: [link]Tim Wildsmith[/link], Unsplash, CC0

Where ways cross …



David Padfield developed in 2005 a Bible study on the book of Ecclesiastes, with the title “Life at the Crossroads. [1]



His main question is “how does one live a life in vanity?” Human life is in vain, this seems to be the book’s ultimate conclusion.



In the introductory paragraph of the book we read:



Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors

at which they toil under the sun?

Generations come and generations go,

but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets,

and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south

and turns to the north;

round and round it goes,

ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea,

yet the sea is never full.

To the place the streams come from,

there they return again.

All things are wearisome,

more than one can say.

The eye never has enough of seeing,

nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say,

“Look! This is something new”?

It was here already, long ago;

it was here before our time.

No one remembers the former generations,

and even those yet to come,

will not be remembered,

by those who follow them.”



Ecclesiastes mirrors, in my view, a general feeling of people in our contemporary Western world. Life is meaningless, says the ordinary human being.



And therefore, all search for meaning is in vain. We humans must take life as it comes and make the best of vanity.



Really? Are all human ways on earth meaningless? Is the life road a via negativa? Those of us who live their days without major breakdowns may question the conclusions of Ecclesiastes.



But then at the next crossroads in life, unexpected developments occur, decisions need to be made, and all of a sudden, life as experienced up to that point is in question.



At such crossings, life appears difficult and often unjust and does not seem to make sense any longer.



How can one help people who feel disoriented in this way? Can we offer anything more than pious advice to “wait on the Lord”? We are well advised to turn to God´s word with all our questions.



 



Via negativa – from I to me



Scripture teaches us that all human roads tend to lead nowhere as soon as they leave God aside. Human history, with its never-ending story of violence, corruption and injustice, proves how fragile life on Earth is.



“The human heart is evil from the beginning” (Gen. 8:21). Left to ourselves, we humans soon embark on wrong ways. We need God to sustain us.



When we turn away from God, we humans fall under the influence of destructive powers of darkness, do the will of our corrupted thoughts and desires, and become children of anger (Eph. 2:1–3).



James states:



What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1–3)



This selfishness, these egoistic desires, create the via negativa of our life. The destructive cycle starts with humans concentrating on themselves, a way from the big I to a yet bigger Me.



The result is life in vain, which comes and goes without leaving anything meaningful behind. In 1 Pet. 1:24 we read, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall” (see also Ps. 90:5–6).



The Scriptures are explicitly clear about where a life without God leads. Ecclesiastes is right, human existence is meaningless unless God gives it meaning.



And yet our Western philosophy of individualism promotes exactly this type of self-satisfaction and me-centeredness, putting the human ego at the center of our universe.



According to this philosophy, whatever serves one’s own pleasures is right. All truth is relativized to what each and every person makes it.



Individualism claims to have overcome the problem of absolute truth. Everyone can have his or her narrative of truth. Is this the reason why so many in our societies do not find any meaning in life?



Yes, I do believe meaninglessness and individualism are strongly correlated. Ray Yiu rightly emphasizes that there is no meaningful identity in a post-truth culture. [2]



No wonder meaninglessness becomes the pandemic of our day. The classic signs of a decadent culture spread like a virus: consumerism, alcoholism, drug, sex, and other addictions.



Many people go beyond their limits and remain deeply depressed and disappointed. Millions feel lonely and are at risk of mental illness, as psychologists all over the Western world warn.



Loneliness becomes a disease, affecting all ages [3] and making our way of life a via negativa, caught in a culture of selfishness.



 



Via positiva – from Him to Him



Is life on Earth predetermined to be negative? Is there no way out? Some skeptics say yes. However, Christians know there is a better way: a life under the authority of God.



Jesus, God´s bodily revelation on Earth, showed us the path. In John 14:6 He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“



Jesus is God’s way of life, the only true via positiva on Earth. He lived a human life in every way, but without sin (Heb. 4:15). Therefore, He is God´s model for a meaningful life.



What does the way of Jesus imply? The famous words of Jesus as quoted by John point to three steps: (a) they describe the crossing between the negative and the positive roads and consequently the entry to the via positiva; (b) they name the condition by which the way exists; (c) they point to the experience of walking on the road of Jesus.



First, the term way is the Greek ὁδός (hodos), which can be translated into English as way, path, or journey. It is the whole way from the entry to the exit, [4] a road of life, a definite culture. [5]



Jesus compares His way with other approaches to life:



Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13–14)



Whoever seeks a road of life will have to come to Him. In fact, there is no other name on Earth by which meaning for life can be obtained (Acts 4:12). And coming to him implies turning away from our selfish and egoistic ways.



Jesus himself defines the entry to His way. John 7:37–38 says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”



Coming to Jesus means entrusting our life to him, much as the apostle Paul did. Paul fully committed his life to Him, counting everything in life as rubbish in comparison to knowing Him (Phil. 3:7).



Only where we enter into His life does our life become new. “Whoever is in Christ is a new being” (2 Cor. 5:17).



Second, the Jesus way is a road of truth, absolute truth! The Greek Term used here ἀλήθεια (aletheia) means “truth, but not merely truth as spoken; truth of idea, reality, sincerity, truth in the moral sphere, divine truth revealed to man, straightforwardness”.



Classical Greek often used the term as synonymous with reality, as opposed to illusion.[6]



Truth encompasses all spheres of life and establishes decisive perspectives for everything in life. With Jesus as the Truth, no other perspectives are possible. There is only one name under the sun by which humans obtain salvation from their corrupt lives – Jesus (Acts 4:12).



Granted, this is the most difficult part for a humanistic-minded person. No more dependence on my will, my reasoning, my own experiments? Him only? But where then on Earth is my own identity? Do we completely disappear in Him when we follow Him?



Sure, this is what the Lord means by inviting us to become His disciples and become totally one with Him as He is one with His Father (John 17:21).



Walking the Jesus way means to become one with Him. Jesusness is the only possible condition for those who enter the via positiva. But this oneness does not dissolve our individual identity, but rather brings it to the ultimate fulfillment.



And finally, walking the Jesus way is an experience of life. He is Life. The Greek term ζωή (zoe) means “all life, physical as well as spiritual, present as well as future.” [7]



Those who follow Jesus, will see signs of His presence all around them and will do things He has done and even greater than these (John 14:12).



Without question, such a life is positive. It may not always seem great in the eyes of the world, but it will fill the disciple of Christ with joy and peace.



 



Via transformativa – moving toward the kingdom



The Jesus way is an ideal and disciples of Christ, the people of the Way, know that life on Earth requires daily commitment.



The way of Jesus orients us, but the daily challenges of life can mislead even the most dedicated Christians.



Accustomed to living according to the parameters of our own cultures, we find it difficult to translate the principles of his kingdom into our language and culture.



But such a translation is essential for our understanding of what Jesus expects. His wisdom does not come from this world. None of our cultures and languages will fully grasp Him.



We are liable to misunderstand and create wrong perceptions, even syncretism’s. And this requires corrections to help us move toward the ideal again.



Having left the via negativa at the crossing where Jesus met us, at His cross, we enter what may be called the via transformativa, a way of transformation and sanctification, marked by putting off the old ways of thinking and behavior and putting on the new being in Christ (Col. 3:1ff).



In the old narrative, we may have lied to others, but in the new narrative we will speak the truth with one another; in the old one, we may have been stealing, but in the new we work with our hands, so that we can assist those in need; in the old, we were angry at one another, but in the new we forgive and reconcile; in the old, we were bashing each other, but in the new we speak the truth about one another (Eph. 4:25–30).



In the old way, we have cared first and foremost about ourselves, but in the new way we will seek his justice and righteousness. It is a turnaround from Me to God, from the individualistic I to people in need, becoming a new collective, a new “we,” God´s saved family.



Going from the old to the new requires a principled decision to “seek first his kingdom” (Matt. 6:33), a desire to be transformed in Him.



Together with other Christians, the family of God, we will then see how we move from one stage to the other, being transformed by the Spirit of God himself (2 Cor. 3:18).



The via transformativa will lead us to understand the way of Jesus and will enable us to live His life in the midst of the destruction caused by the road of meaninglessness and vanity and move toward a glorious future in the kingdom of God.



Johannes Reimer, Director of the Department of Public Engagement of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA)



 



Notes



1. David Padfield: Ecclesiastes: Life at the Crossroads. See the digital version here.



2. Ray Yiu: The meaninglessness of life in a post-truth culture. In ConvergeMedia, June 19, 2018,



3. Sarvada Chandra Tiwari: Loneliness: A disease? Indian Journal of Psychiatry 55(4), October 2013, 320-322; Ulrike Fuchs: Einsamkeit kann krank machen.



4. Walter Bauer: Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament. (Berlin/New York: deGruyter 1971), 1096-1097.



5.  Culture is defined as “a way of life”. See in this regard: Lothar Käser: Fremde Kulturen. Eine Einführung in die Ethnologie. (Bad Liebenzell: VLM 1997), 37.



6.  See Strong’s Greek Lexicon.



7.  Ibid.


 

 


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