There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. -Ecclesiastes 2:24
This statement by Solomon is fundamentally offensive to the Christian. This is because it attacks our fundamental desire for glory. We desperately want our comings and goings, our eating and drinking, our daily toil to mean more, count for more than what we fill our time with. We want it to have ramifications on the world, impact in the grand narrative of God’s redemptive work.
But as Solomon works through what a man is given to do, what his portion or lot is in this age, the answer isn’t very flattering. It’s not much. Your life, your effort, your great deeds aren’t much compared to the work of the Creator. In fact, your work and the work of God will often be diametrically opposed, though on the surface it won’t look like it.
Consider the words of Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation,
- The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.
- Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end.
- Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
- Although the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.
The eternal merits are found only in the toil of our God. As Solomon says, “I perceive that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him” (3:14).
You work is important, just not as important as you would like it to be. If you lift your head to look beyond your neighbor, beyond the impact of those around you when you work, then you are missing the beauty and joy of this life. You are missing the freedom of your toil. The eternal merits, the works that sway the population of heaven and hell are the works of God alone. You work, your toil impacts a much smaller circle and even that falls under the work and plan of God.
This ought to be good news!
It means you are free to get to work, and it is okay to enjoy it even if you screw it up (which you will). Go ahead and eat and drink and enjoy your toil, for this is your lot and surprisingly enough it pleases your God.