In previous posts on Ecclesiastes, we’ve explored Solomon’s sobering view on the trials of this life and the uncertainty of what’s to come. His fixation with the evils that God permits may lead you to believe he seeks to disprove or reject God. But as Solomon shifts from philosophical musings to practical solutions, one of his strongest appeals revolves around how you approach a relationship with a God like this:
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”
So far, Solomon’s teaching in Ecclesiastes would seem to contradict what he counsels here. Everything he’s said sounds like it’s coming from a murmuring mouth and and an unsettled heart. Is Solomon encouraging a little dishonesty with God? Is this an aside with the students? Is he warning his audience lest he get in trouble with the higher ups: “Look we’ve all got our issues with God and I’ve been laying it out to you pretty strong. But let’s just keep this between you and me. When you go before God…just shut up and do as you’re told.” Is this what Solomon has in mind?
There’s another interesting thing about this advice. Every time Solomon mentions God in Ecclesiastes he uses the more impersonal name, Elohim (usually translated God) instead of the more intimate Yahweh (usually translated LORD). In Hebrew, Elohim is a generic term for God that doesn’t designate any personal relationship. It can be used to reference the gods of Greece, Rome, Israel or in today’s world, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. On the other hand, Yahweh is a personal name, used to designate the more intimate, redemptive moments between God and Israel. The deity that gets Solomon’s attention seems to be a distant, but powerful being ruling over a world that doesn’t make much sense. Again, it seems like a caution: “You don’t want to ask this God too many questions or get in his way.”
So what is Solomon getting at? Though it may seem he has been quite hasty only to get quiet when God shows up, the observations from Solomon have come from a lifetime of listening. Over and over again he uses phrases like “I searched my heart,” or “I turned to consider,” or “I perceived.” He has sought the wisdom that comes through patient contemplation of the world around him. It has revealed great joy and great pain to be had in the life under the sun. But none of his concerns are flaky or hastily concluded. In fact, they are very much concerns that exist thousands of years later, revealing how wise he was in his process of observation.
Solomon does not deny all his former complaints of God’s injustice or “evils” as he calls them. But he also knows that God’s perspective is much wider and broader than ours. He knows God also has been observing the world before him. While he’s willing to recognize his discontent, he accepts that in the presence of God, much like Job did, he must accept his own limitations.
With this in mind, he surrenders these complaints to God. He releases them rather than to start ranting at God. He understands that God has more to offer him than a listening ear. While we might like the friendly God that will endure listening to all our sob stories, Solomon insists there’s much more He has to offer. This “distant, powerful” God will actually speak to you. Listen and you will discover much more than your complaining could ever achieve.
With this advise, Solomon is emphasizing a sobering truth: God is worthy of your full attention. We often want God to speak to us on our terms, to answer our questions on our timeline. We expect Him to show up when we demand it. In a world that constantly distracts us with endless dings, pings and notifications, many of which don’t deserve the time it takes to ignore them, when everything seems suited to multi-tasking at a break-neck pace, we want to check-in with God when it’s convenient.
But that’s not how it works. When God doesn’t seem to be speaking to you, remember this: God is worthy of your complete, undivided attention. I’m not pretending this answers every question about the times God is silent in our lives, but it’s one thing we must do to hear from Him. We cannot expect to hear Him clearly until we have the very least given Him our full attention.
This simple fact has made this post incredibly hard for me to write. I’ve been waiting a full week to publish it, wrestling with this passage and it’s meaning. For one, how to do you assess a passage on a blog post that’s main idea is to, “Let your words be few?” (I actually considered publishing a blank page.)
But, really what slowed me down is this: with so much going on all the time, I struggle to give anything my full attention. Besides, in my life God seems so gentle in his approach, so patient that time spent just with Him gets pushed down the list of priorities. He doesn’t send me a reminder or an alarm or even leave me a sticky note.
He just waits.
Until I show up.
This is why Solomon counsels us the way he does. It takes work to offer God our full attention. Solomon takes time to humbly recognize the murmurings in his heart and to carefully choose words that come from his mouth. Each one that limits his ability to surrender his heart to God, he quietly releases and then stops to listen. He knows if there is an answer to his concerns that he can understand, God will bring it to him not while he fills up the space with words, but as he clears his heart to listen.
So, here is our invitation, this is how we seek God at the times He seems so distant: Come quietly. Come humbly. Come ready to listen and to learn. Come to God without an agenda. Release the burdens that are so perplexing to you. Then, release them again and again when they return. Whatever effort it takes you, give Him your full, undivided attention. Though the God of all the earth is at times intimidating and unexplainable, He will not turn you away.