The Good Old Days. Remember them? Its Good Friday – remember when the whole country was religious and everything stopped on Good Friday? No? Me neither. I'm currently in Australia and a lot of the shops are closed on Good Friday. In the UK in most areas commercial activity carries on as before – indeed in many ways it is intensified.
After his thoughts on the relative merits of attending a party or a funeral,
Solomon now moves on to consider how we reflect upon our times (7:7-14).
In a series of warnings he tells us to beware of bribery, pride, anger and nostalgia. He tells us that oppression or extortion makes a person foolish and that the temptation of bribery can bring the whole inner life of a man to ruin. He offers us some basic wisdom that I find helpful in getting me through life.
1. Patience is better than pride. Patience is essential in coping with life. We cannot know the outcome of anything until it is completed and so we need patience. We do not know the end from the beginning.
2. Anger is destructive. There is a place for anger. But for most of us, most of the time, anger 'resides in the lap of fools'. It exasperates us. 'A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him' (Proverbs 17:25). In Ecclesiastes anger leads to exasperation at the confusion of life, bereavement and unjust persecution. And it results in bitterness. 'See to it that no-one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many' (Hebrews 12:15. A bitter person is never a happy person.
3. Don't pine for the past. You cannot face the difficulties of one age by pining for another. The good old days are often a combination of a bad memory and a vivid imagination The Victorian essayist Hilaire Belloc wrote: 'While you are dreaming of the future or regretting the past, the present, which is all you have, slips from you and is gone.' TV Moore paraphrases this beautifully: 'Be careful not to let your heart get angry, for you ought to keep in mind that it's the fool who lets his temper rule his life. And just forget about the "Good Old Days" – as if they were as great as that. The wise man will prefer to look ahead and try to make the most of what's before him, not to mourn the ghost of times that never were.'
4. Wisdom is a better insurance than money. Wisdom from God is the best inheritance. 'To be in the shadow of wisdom is like being in the shadow of silver, and knowledge is an advantage.' There is a sense in which wealth is a protection – but wisdom is even better.
In what way is wisdom a shelter? It helps us to make sense of life and to cope. The crookedness of the world is not just fate – it is subject to God. 'For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope' (Romans 8:20). Good times and bad times both have their uses. Good times cause us to be happy, bad to think and reflect upon the realities of life that will hopefully lead us to faith in God. 'He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said' (Job 2:10). God gives us blessings to make us happy and sorrows to keep us humble. There is a divine balance in life which means that we do not topple over.
Moore again: 'God gives us all our lot in life. He brings us good at times; at other times he stings us with adversity. But here's the point: We shouldn't let ourselves get out of joint when trouble comes. Or when we find it hard to make sense out of things. Just trust the Lord, my son. He always does what's good and right; he's with us always, whether day or night.'
I suspect that the disciples would have named Easter Friday as Dark Friday. It was anything but good. It was the darkest of days. Perhaps they thought about the 'good old days' when they witnessed miracles and were taught by Christ; when the crowds cheered him and them as they entered Jerusalem. And now he was dead. Gone. Murdered. They needed wisdom, understanding and above all patience. Wait on the Lord is the cry of the Christian. Easter Sunday follows Dark Friday. Joy comes in the morning. Like Solomon we need to 'consider what God has done'.