Overthrowing Conventional Wisdom

A good name is better than precious oil; and the day of death, than the day of one’s birth (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

The Preacher has always been notable for his “different” views about life. He likes to overturn “conventional wisdom” to force his audience into thinking more deeply about the mysteries of life.

We see this tendency illustrated in Ecclesiastes 7:1 regarding life and death. We tend to favor the day of birth over the day of death, appreciating the hope and possibility of new life. The Preacher is not denying the value of new life; he instead focuses on the “merits” of the day of death. Death means the end of the futility, the vanity/absurdity of life; there will be no more physical pain, suffering, or any of the other miseries described as “under the sun.” Furthermore, for those who have lived well, and who have a good name, the day of death seals their reputation. Most people would easily accept the idea that one’s reputation is of more value than luxury goods; how many would accept the idea that the day of death is better than the day of birth?

All of chapter 7, as well as much of the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes, maintains a similar theme. Jesus Himself spoke in terms completely contrary to received wisdom (cf. Matthew 5:3-12, Luke 6:20-26). There are many times when it is good to overthrow conventional wisdom: it often is based in presuppositions and perspectives that are limited and distorted.

Such is certainly true in the twenty-first century. Our society has developed a lot of assumptions, perspectives, and ideas that many recently have described, among other things, as “first world problems.”

When we hear about a child being diagnosed with a fatal condition or is dying, we are understandably distressed and sad. Nevertheless, the truly surprising thing is not that some children get ill and/or die, as many seem to think, but that so many more children are alive and healthy.

A lot of us, to some degree or another, have challenges with weight gain. The amazing thing is not that we so easily gain weight, but that most all of us have the resources allowing us to consume far more calories than any of us need on account of the amount of food produced annually. Many people in the world to this very day may be starving, and yet we have a superabundance of food.

Many people read the Bible these days and are horrified at the pictures of violence in the Old Testament and are disturbed at the prospect of hell for the disobedient and the unbelievers in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Samuel 15:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). Yet the fact that people today can read those stories and be horrified is what is really astounding: for most people in the past, and sadly even for many to this very day, those pictures of violence were and are normal. The fact that so many take offense at the concept of divine justice or retribution says as much about those taking offense as it does about the concept itself: if one has never been oppressed, wronged, or persecuted in a meaningful and substantive way, it is pretty easy to think of divine justice as some form of injustice. Yet, for the majority of human history, the vast majority of people have understood, to some degree, what it meant to be wronged, mistreated, and/or oppressed, and the idea that God would make all wrongs right one day allowed life to maintain some form of meaning.

For that matter, our society seems to take as gospel truth the premise that we are developing and “progressing” as a culture, and often will point to some of these differences between our lives and the lives of our ancestors as signs of the “evolution” of our sensibilities. While it is true that life is different than it was in previous generations, and many aspects of life today are better than in times past, there are many problems we experience today that were not as prevalent in days past: social isolation, recognition of the value of others, honoring of commitments, and so on and so forth. Things are not inherently better or worse (Ecclesiastes 1:9, 7:10); they are just different.

These and many other forms of “conventional wisdom” must be overturned if we will keep a healthy perspective about life: many of the things we find problematic are not really “problems” in the grand scheme of things, and we must come to grips with the fact that on the whole, our lives are fairly charmed in comparison with the experience of most of humanity in its existence. It is good to be thankful for our blessings; it is quite another to become as spoiled brats on account of our blessings. Let us praise and honor God, mindful of how reality really works, understanding that many times we must not go along with what passes for conventional wisdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Overthrowing Conventional Wisdom

Do Not Fear; Only Believe

While he yet spake, they come from the ruler of the synagogue’s house saying, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Teacher any further?”
But Jesus, not heeding the word spoken, saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, “Fear not, only believe” (Mark 5:35-36).

The dreaded news had arrived.

Jairus knew that the time was short; he hastened to Jesus and implored Him to heal his daughter, sick near death (cf. Mark 5:22-23). Jairus knew that if Jesus got to her before she died she could be delivered from the illness. But the crowd pressed firmly upon Jesus, and He took time out to hear the confession of faith of the woman healed from the issue of blood (cf. Mark 5:24-34).

Too much time had been taken. The girl was dead.

This news is brought to Jairus; according to those who came from his house, there was no more need to bother Jesus the Teacher. And yet, in the midst of this despair and distress, Jesus provides a compelling message for Jairus: do not fear– only believe.

What would Jairus do?

It would be entirely understandable if he went with conventional wisdom and no longer bothered the Teacher. His daughter was dead. One of the few guarantees in life is that once you are dead, you are dead and finished. Sure, Jesus had healed all kinds of sick people and cast out many demons– but He had not yet raised anyone from the dead. It was a great hope while it lasted– but now all hope was gone. The girl was no more.

Yet, on the other hand, why is Jesus so nonchalant about the matter? Did Jesus not know how close she was to death? Why did Jesus delay? Why does He not pay any attention to the terrible news? Jesus is being hailed as the Prophet, the Son of God, with great authority. And now He says to not fear but only believe.

How many times do we find ourselves in a position similar to that of Jairus? There are many times in our lives when our situation seems bleak and hopeless. According to all appearances and conventional wisdom, there is nothing left to do but lose hope and be afraid. Distress encompasses us. Trials beset us. We have all kinds of reasons to no longer trouble the Teacher and to go on our own way.

And yet the voice of Jesus may still call to us to not fear and only believe.

This message should not be distorted or improperly expanded to indicate that all we ever need to do is just believe. Trust and confidence in God and Christ demand that we do what they say to do– if we do not do the Lord’s commandments, we prove that we are not trusting in Him (cf. Romans 6:16-23, James 2:14-26, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 2:3-6).

But there are many times in life when, if we were walking by sight/appearance, we would lose hope. It is in those times that we must walk by faith– trusting that the Lord is there, that the Lord is good, and that God is willing to do far more than even what we desire (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7, Ephesians 3:20-21). God can do the mighty actions; it is our place to trust in Him.

But there have always been and always will be reason to laugh at that trust. There are always reasons to lose all hope and to be afraid. There is never a lack of political uncertainty, economic uncertainty, medical uncertainty, and even environmental uncertainty. There are always various reasons to doubt God, to be afraid of what is happening to us or what we fear is about to happen to us, and to decide to no longer bother the Teacher.

We can read about Jairus’ choice: he believed and Jesus raised his daughter from the dead and restored her to full health (Mark 5:37-43). God was able to do more for him than he could have imagined. And so it is with us. Whenever we are assailed by doubt, fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness, let us remember the words of our Lord.

Do not fear. Only believe.

Ethan R. Longhenry

Do Not Fear; Only Believe