“There is vanity which is done on the earth where there are righteous ones who have thrown down on them as if their deeds were wicked; and there are wicked ones who have thrown down on them as if their deeds were righteous. As I said, this also is vanity.”
This is a theme that we have seen several times in this book. Sadly, it happens in life enough that it seems clear to Solomon that it needs to be addressed. But sometimes, at the heart of the matter, the wicked seem to be rewarded and the righteous seem to be punished. As is sometimes said, “no good deed goes unpunished.” This is vanity…or as Rabbi Shalom Yitzhaki (Rashi) worded it, “There is a futility which confounds mankind…”
Indeed, this futility does compound mankind until we recognize one great truth. We are not righteous…no not one (Psalm 14:1; Romans 3:10). We are wicked sinners…every single one of us…you and me both. And when the judgment of the wicked gets poured down on our heads the best that we can rightly say is, “Dear Lord, I deserve this and so much more.” And, when even the smallest good thing happens in our lives, the best that we can rightly say is, “Dear Lord, this is but from your abundant grace and it is not what I deserve.”
Were we to receive what was just, this earth would be Hell — stripped of all light and good things — with no hope of deliverance. As terrifying as this world can be at times, it would be worse…infinitely worse. All good — in the life of both the Christian and the non-Christian is an expression of God’s grace. Yet, how often we take that grace for granted and do not marvel in wonder at why God would extend grace to sinners such as we are.
We’ve been told a lie. Our society has told us that we are not so bad. It has told us that if we work hard, provide for our children, are faithful to our spouses, and obey the civil law (at least when the authorities are watching) that we are basically good people. Basically moral, yes, but not basically good. The Pharisees were basically moral people but Jesus called them children of the Devil (John 8:44). As John Newton rightly wrote… “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!” Do you know what a wretch is? Do you know that Newton was not just talking about himself? The words speak of you and me.
So, when we pursue sin, we demonstrate the hold that worldly wickedness has on our lives. When we choose not to fight to resist sin (I mean, really resist it), we demonstrate that we don’t care. And, when we do resist sin, it is a clear demonstration of God’s grace at work in us through faith and there is no credit that we can claim of our own.
I have said many times that what bothers me is not so much the Christian who sins — we all will so long as we are in this fallen world — what bothers me are those who profess to be Christian and think they are without major sin and Christians who do not grieve over and repent of their sins. That’s when they become dangerous because clearly they do not understand grace. Solomon is right, as they see the world, it is something that is vanity and confounds all expectations.
And, so as a sinner writing to sinners, my prayer is that we keep this great truth of our unworthiness before our eyes. We owe everything to Christ and to God’s grace who saved us because he ordained that we be in Christ. That, my friends, must be our starting point because unless we start there we shall not repent when we sin. Unless we start there we will not have a godly hatred for our sin. And unless we start there we will never appreciate God’s amazing grace.