Pastoral Naysaying

Jeff Munroe

Read: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

All is vanity. (v. 2)

Like the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes is read at a Jewish festival, in this case Sukkot. This is Israel’s most joyous festival, which combines a celebration of the harvest with remembrance of God’s provision and deliverance during the exodus. On the surface, it seems unusual to combine the seemingly dour message of Ecclesiastes with this joyful festival. But paradoxes like this demonstrate genuine wisdom. The message is, “Keep your head on straight while celebrating bounty and blessing.” There’s a difference, after all, between God fulfilling our needs and granting all our desires. Eugene Peterson calls this “the pastoral work of nay-saying” (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work).

I’m reminded of the time we were hosting a young visitor from another country and one of those television commercials came on offering three pairs of pants, four ties, and two shirts free with the purchase of two new suits. Our visitor’s mouth fell open and he said, “Please take me there—we must go now before they run out of clothes.” I had to do a little nay-saying and tell him not to get that excited about the too-good-to-be-true nature of American advertising. What our young visitor needed was a strong dose of the book of Ecclesiastes.

I’ll tip my hand and say Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I guess I’m a contrarian by nature and love its hard-boiled take on reality. I hope you will enjoy exploring it, too. —Jeff Munroe

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the wisdom of Ecclesiastes.