It’s a little unnerving when a book of the Bible gets all up in our business. Reading through Solomon’s realizations in the book of Ecclesiastes is like having someone put words to deeply felt truths and insecurities. It’s at once an uncomfortable exposure and consoling company. The author sums up a universal tension: how the temporal nature of this world chafes (see Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:11,17, 26; 4:7) with our desire to put a permanent significance to our earthly work (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Like perpetual mismatched socks, on the left we wear the eternal, and on the right we put on the temporal, and every day we are reminded of it.

The tension is highlighted when the hard work we’ve done to establish our name is overlooked by a supervisor. We sense the contradiction when we save money only to have it lost in an economic downturn. While we sit and fold a shirt, just to wash and fold it again the next week, we nod in agreement with the author of Ecclesiastes. There is no amount of hard work, smart planning, or bootstrap effort that will create a permanence of our earthly work. We grimace when we read that, but maybe we need to read it again. And this time let’s not let it fall on us as judgment, but as a release. 

The socks won’t ever match in this broken world, but we can learn to wear them with grace. We can work hard, knowing that is all we are asked to do (Colossians 3:23). We can push aside the “if onlys” and move forward without chronically second-guessing every decision. We can fold the shirt again and again and laugh at the absurdity of it all. Our inability to control the outcome can release us from chasing our tail, and into finding joy in the work. Ecclesiastes doesn’t solve the problem of the tension; rather, it provides a solution within the tension. It teaches us to change our posture by doing two things. 

Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, “The conclusion, when everything has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments.” The twofold solution starts with fearing God. With God, fear is about reverence and awe, not anxiety or insecurity. The second part of the conclusion says to keep His commandments. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, and his commands are written to us throughout, not just the big ten. This enormous three-word pronouncement, “Keep his commandments,” requires a lifetime of active study and determined faithfulness. NBD. Fearing God and keeping his commandments doesn’t always negate our frustration about our inability to produce lasting work; rather, it provides a positional response within that tension. When we acknowledge the tension, and then choose to shift our gaze to an awe-inspiring God, less energy will go to being frustrated and our perspective can realign. When we study God’s principles, the significance of the temporal will fade.

Since we can’t determine what lasts, there is relief from life’s rat race when we intentionally yield all our efforts to God. And once our backs go from rigid to flexible, our fists move from clenched to relaxed, and our eyes from gazing downward to studying heavenward, our souls find the margin to allow joy through it all. Yes, work hard and work smart and plan and DO all the good things that we are given to do. Even more, make every effort to enjoy those things and the fruits of our labor (Ecclesiastes 5:18–20; 9:7–9). Just remember that the God who made the sun and stars, and even the cotton in that blasted shirt we fold over and over, has eternity covered. The perspective and wisdom found in humble awe at our Creator and his commands will grant more peace than trying to build our platform. So we can be intentional to delight in our day job, fear God, and keep His commandments. Let the mismatched socks be a reminder of God’s faithfulness and that there is joy in the journey.

About the writer: Rachel Smith lives in Minnesota with her husband, their three high schoolers, and their dogs, Ginger Rogers and Doris Day. In her free time Rachel can be found reading a good memoir (either by a fire in the winter or on a deck in the summer). She geeks out about the Old Testament and Cary Grant movies, and is currently pursuing an MDiv. @firmlyanchored, rachelboothsmith.com

Scripture quotation is from the New American Standard Bible.


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4 thoughts on “God-Given Tension

  1. I loved this! How Ecclesiastes provides a “positional response within the tension” of this often frustrating life really got me. What a huge mental shift that I need to make.

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