A Call to Paradox

Jeff Munroe

Read: Ecclesiastes 7:1-14

The heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (v. 4)

Who among us would say that sorrow is better than laughter or that the day of death is better than the day of birth? On the surface, that doesn’t sound right. What exactly does Qoheleth mean?

He is driving at something deeper than our surface banalities and nervous laughter. He’s calling us to the sort of honest look at life that Frederick Buechner relates in his memoir Now and Then. Buechner was enchanted by a seminary professor named James Muilenburg, who would tell his classes, “Every morning when you wake up, before you reaffirm your faith in the majesty of a loving God, before you say I believe for another day, read the Daily News with its record of the latest crimes and tragedies of mankind and then see if you can honestly say it again” (p. 16). It is no coincidence that Muilenburg taught the Old Testament. He shared Qoheleth’s grim sense of reality.

One of the great temptations in the life of faith is to want to resolve everything, but some things can’t be resolved. There aren’t easy answers to the theological questions raised by suffering and pain. Instead of simplistic answers, we live in paradoxical tension. Buechner said Muilenburg’s faith “was not a seamless garment but a ragged garment with the seams showing, the tears showing, a garment that he clutched about him like a man in a storm” (p. 16). Like Muilenburg, we too are in a storm, and this is genuine wisdom. —Jeff Munroe

Prayer: Lord, help us hold on to our faith amid life’s great storms.