The Greeks expressed this “burden” in their myth of Prometheus, who brought humanity fire, symbolizing enlightenment and the arts. By doing so he also brought them “honors beyond their due,” and for punishment Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock, to be eviscerated by an eagle. Humans thus overreached, bringing on themselves the weight of suffering and guilt.
In a striking parallel to the Greek myth, it happened in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sought “to be like God, understanding good and evil.” They chose to deny their creatureliness by reaching more than God had granted them. Distrusting God, they brough burden of the gods themselves.
Our own century has poignantly taken partaken of the burden of the gods, discovering both its exalted hopes and its crushing despair. Most of our problems have come about, ironically, because of our desire to progress, to improve, to make life better.
Our best attempts backfire. We learn to prolong life, yet fail to provide meaning for the people permanently attached to the whirring machines. The most technologically advances countries are also the ones marked by family breakdown, drug addiction, abortion, violent crime, homelessness and suicide.
Eternity in Our Hearts
We are not gods. We are not solely animals either. God “has set eternity in the hearts of men.” There is a sense of the “longing”. “Drippings of grace,” Lewis called them once, those rumors of transcendence that he experienced when listening to music, reading Greek myths, or visiting a cathedral. We all feel that longing sometimes: in sex, in beauty, in music, in nature, in love.
Where did our sense of beauty and pleasure come from? The philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes’ answer is clear: A good and loving God naturally would want his creatures to experience delight, joy, and personal fulfilment.
An encounter with beauty or an experience of intense joy may cause us for a time to forget our true moral state – but not for long. The child we held in our lap at dinnertime we scream at near bedtime; the person we made love to last night we feud with today. Every bride walks the aisle believing in a new life of bliss, and every parent of a newborn leaves the hospital full of joy; yet we know that half of all marriages end in divorce and perhaps a third of all children wull suffer abuse at their parents’ hands.
We cannot shed, ever, the unbearable burden of the gods.
Under the Sun
A person may sense eternity in the heart and continue to live “under the sun”. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes has a simple message: you will surely fail to find what satisfies. If we start chasing pleasure as an end in itself, along the way we may lose sight of the One who gave us such good gifts as sexual drive, taste buds, and the capacity to appreciate beauty.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. -Ecclesiastes 3:11a
Yet, by assuming the burden of the gods we were not meant to carry, we turn nudity into pornography, wine into alcoholism, food into gluttony, and human diversity into racism and prejudice. Despair descends as we abuse God’s good gifts; they seem no longer gifts, and no longer good.
The promise of pleasures are so alluring that we may devote our lives to their pursuit, and then the haunting realization that these pleasures ultimately do not satisfy. Made for another home, made for eternity, we finally realize that nothing this side of timeless Paradise will quiet the rumors of discontent.
The Teacher completes his sentence:
Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. -Ecclesiastes 3:11b
We humans cannot figure out life on our own. Life does not make sense outside of God and will never fully make sense because we are not God.
Life of Meaning
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? -Matthew 16:26
The Teacher of Ecclesiastes standing before the magazine rack of a modern newsstand would probably ask a lot of questions.
All these body-building magazines – Shape, New Body, Muscle and Fitness – do you think flesh lasts forever? Have you no thought for the grave? Success, Inc., Entrepreneur – what are you scrambling? Do you truly believe you will find satisfaction there? Mad,Lampoon, Atlantic, Harper’s – I tried folly as well as wisdom, and both lead to the same place. To the grave.”
The existentialist writers popularized the phrase “leap of faith” as a way of describing the plunge beyond or cultural assumptions to a belief in transcendence. This sent me back to the 17th century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, who also struggled with issues of meaninglessness. Pascal concluded that faith sometimes resembles a wager. He told his friends:
Take the leap of faith and believe that there is a God, and that this life will make sense one day: when the eternity in our hearts will find its Sabbath rest, when the burden of the gods will settle on our resurrected shoulders with a bearable lightness of being.
I love this point of view so much and meant to be shared.
From the Book: The Bible Jesus Read
Photo by Julentto Photography on Unsplash and Quote Fancy