Romantic Realism: A Meditation of Ecclesiastes 3:16-22

The famous “To everything there is a season” passage of Ecclesiastes teaches us how to die, and it teaches us how to live.  This next passage that follows pushes to apply those teaching when confronted with the harsh realities of life.

“Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.” 


Crucifixion of Christ by the Master of Monte Cassino (c 1310)
Cincinnati Art Museum
Photo by Russell Smith

Qohelet sees the injustice that exists in the world, and he faces it.  The times and seasons of the early part of the chapter include these times of injustice and oppression.  However, Qohelet holds out hope that just as there is time for injustice, there is time for justice:

“I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked for there is a time for every matter and for every work.”

The great modern theologian Miroslav Volf  is Croatian.  In his book Exclusion and Embrace, Volf reflected on trusting in God’s justice in light of the carnage that was wreaked upon his country back in the early 90s .   This was no abstract academic exercise for Volf: his relatives were brutally murdered in the fog of war; his homeland was bathed in blood while the world debated whether the word “genocide” applied.  However, like Qohelet, Volf concludes that God will bring about judgment, and this future judgment becomes the foundation for peace in the now:

“Without entrusting oneself to the God who judges justly, it will hardly be possible to follow the crucified Messiah and refuse to retaliate when abused. The certainty of God’s just judgment at the end of history is the presupposition for the renunciation of violence in the middle of it. The divine system of judgment is not the flip side of the human reign of terror, but a necessary correlate of human nonviolence.”(p.302)

Ecclesiastes teaches us to honestly look at the grim realities of life, but it also teaches us to hold a strain of hope.  Marvin Olasky characterizes this outlook as “Romantic Realism”

“The basic idea is that Christianity is the only religion that is both gruesomely accurate in its depiction of abundant sin but also hopeful in its showing that humans are not alone-for the bridegroom, Christ, does not give up even when repeatedly spurned.”  From “Romantic Realism” in World Jul 14, 2007 issue.

Even when the times and seasons seem bleak, we have hope in the one who is the Lord over time, the Shaper of the order of seasons.   When everything that is under the sun seems to be vanity, we hold out hope that there One who is beyond what we see and perceive and measure. 

Soli Deo Gloria


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