In the first part of the chapter Solomon takes his musing to the bigger picture, a societal level. He writes of kings, and how best to order society. Obedience to the king is a religious issue, something done in reference to God more than the actual king. Wisdom and the fear of God works on this level too, although it is all meaningless. But justice, of a lack of it, has consequences:
11 When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.
I read something recently in Hillsdale’s Imprimis that came about because Mayor Rudy Gulianai started doing something called “broken windows policing.” The basic idea is that the police crack down on petty crime, and crime where it was most likely to happen, and once the “windows” were fixed, crime would come down. That’s exactly what happened, dramatically:
In New York City in 1990 . . . there were 2,245 homicides. In 2014 there were 333—a decrease of 85 percent.
I knew about this, but seeing that contrast in a sentence is astounding. I was in NYC in January, and for the most part felt safe. Solomon was absolutely right.
Solomon also muses about injustice, when the wicked get what the righteous deserve, and the righteous get what the wicked deserve. He declares it meaningless, of course. And it doesn’t make sense from our limited perspective. His conclusion:
16 When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth—his eyes not seeing sleep day or night— 17 then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.
I think this nails it. Life is simply too bizarre, and our perspective too limited to really get to the core of things. If we could comprehend it, in effect, we would be God himself.
The struggle that weighs on existence is just too massive and ubiquitous. I think of it as the “gravity of wrongness.” We all know something is wrong, that things should not be the way they are, and it makes no sense to us. It weighs on us. I’m not thinking of our mortality and that in fact we are daily rotting soon to be dust. I’m talking about the permanent ennui of the soul. Every human achievement no matter how great and exalted, no matter how recognized and applauded leaves that human right square in the sights of Solomon’s wisdom: it is meaningless! You can hear deep down in every person’s soul that “still small voice,” that’s it? That’s all there is? Now what? I gotta do it again to catch the fleeting buzz? And then what, again ad infinitum? And then . . . death? Are you kidding me? That’s what he means by comprehend, we simply cannot understand any of it. Thanks be to God he has broken through the darkness with the wondrous light of his glorious Son!