In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it and then put it to use in practical ways. Our early Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 re- minds us that the life God breathed into us is replete with good and bad times and how to live through it all.
Ecclesiastes 7: 13-14 (NIV)
13 Consider what God has done:
Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
14 When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.
When I ran across Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 recently, I was struck by the concept of straightening what God has made “crooked.” First of all, what does it mean to say that God chose to make anything crooked rather than straight? In my reading about this concept I found a variety of possibilities:
- God makes our lives “crooked” at some point to prepare and train us for the role he has planned for us. Think of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David – the list goes on. (Rodelio Mallari, Sermon Central)
- Crooked things are the events of life that thwart our inclinations, the difficulties which meet us in life that we cannot alter (Pulpit Commentary).
- Crooked things are things that are uncomfortable or painful or do not work out the way we want (Lonnie Atwood, Cazenovia Park Baptist Church, Buffalo, NY).
- Our lives are made up of events which are “straight” – those that meet our expectations-and events which are “crooked” – which by their seeming inequality baffle our comprehension (Barnes Notes on the Bible).
And then there is the phrasing of Eugene Peterson in The Message:
Take good look at God’s work. Who could simplify and reduce Creation’s curves and angles to a plain straight line?
On a good day, enjoy yourself;
On a bad day, examine your conscience.
God arranges for both kinds of days
So that we won’t take anything for granted.
Peterson tells us that not only can we not understand God’s geometry, we can do nothing to change it. We can only take the good days and the bad days as they come. Perhaps God for some reason wants this crooked thing in my life to be crooked; who am I to bitterly complain about it? Trying to argue about how and when and why the good and bad days are apportioned in our lives (or in someone else’s) is not only foolhardy but also not our role. We are not privy to how God works; we can only accept what comes and believe that it will all work out for our good.
Try this experiment in soul training for at least two weeks – or a month if you can summon up the discipline:
- Put your favorite translation of Ecclesiastes 7: 13 – 14 on a card or in your phone. Read it every morning.
- At the end of each day, use any of the definitions of “crooked” in the “Chewing” section above to help you find and list the crooked things that have surfaced in your life that day. Also include memories of crooked things that surfaced today unbidden.
- Note how you handled the crooked things. Did you complain? (I do – endlessly.) Did you get depressed? Did you doubt your ability or wisdom to handle them? Did you get mad at someone – yourself, someone in your life, a person whom you contacted to fix the crookedness? Did you pray about them? Compare those responses with those recommended in Ecclesiastes 13 -14.
- At the end of each week, journal about your experience with these verses. Or talk to a friend or family member. At the end of the month intentionally choose better ways to respond to your crooked things and begin implementing them.
- Once you have practiced this soul training and are comfortable with it, introduce it to your family or small group. Share with each other your responses and attitudes to crooked things in your life.
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“When we are crushed like grapes, we cannot think of the wine we will become. The sorrow overwhelms us, makes us throw ourselves on the ground, faced down, and sweat drops of blood. Then we need to be reminded that our cup of sorrow is also our cup of joy and that one day we will be able to taste the joy as fully as we now taste the sorrow” (Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved).
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