This Sunday I was at Sunday School, and we were discussing Ecclesiastes 7. This chapter is problematic for some Christians since right in the middle of it, a passage says.
Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time? (v. 16-17)
I appreciated the class. They did not embrace the classic Evangelical/Fundamentalist position that most of the book of Ecclesiastes is human wisdom, and the last couple of verses is Godly wisdom. I believe that is a deeply flawed look at a beautiful book. In the class, the focus is on balance.
BUT HOW DOES ONE FIND BALANCE?
Balance makes me think of three places. One is extreme position “A.” The second is extreme position “C.” The third is the balance or “golden mean” that we could call position “B.”
So what should we focus on?
- One perspective is to embrace an extreme position (either “A” or “C”). This, not surprisingly, leads to extremism. I recall a boss of mine (my first boss actually) who served as a camp director. He would say that when one is driving on a mountain road, should one drive as close to the edge of the cliff or as far away as possible. The answer he wanted was to drive as far away from the cliff side as possible. In my view, the middle of the road is likely the safest, since the opposite to the cliff is likely to be the mountainside with falling rocks, or another cliff side. He was, however, simply expressing a position of embracing an extreme— the more extreme the better. Of course, for this position, Ecclesiastes 7:16-17 is nonsense.
- A second perspective is to focus on both of the extremes (both “A” and “C”). For a long time, I had embraced this. Find two extremes and recognize that “the truth” exists somewhere between those two extremes. The problem is in the word “somewhere.” Just because one may have bounded the truth, doesn’t mean that one has located it. So returning to Ecclesiastes 7:16-17, if over-righteousness is an unhealthy extreme, and over-wickedness is an unhealthy extreme, where is the unhealthy balance? Is a healthy balance being a little bit wicked? Somewhat righteous?
- A third perspective is to focus on the healthy balance “B.” Ecclesiastes is a book with a recurring theme— “Fear God and try to enjoy the life that God has given you.” This is a good message, and clearly places this as “B”— the healthy balance. If that is the healthy balance— what are the extremes? Legalism, asceticism, or licentiousness would be ungodly extremes.
We can use this principle in many ways. For example, one can look at the qualities of the Fruit of the Spirit are not extremes, but balances. From there, one can identify extremes. For example if Gentleness is a healthy balance, one unhealthy extreme is its clear opposite— abuse. But another is the perversion of the balance— in this case weakness.
A post I wrote on the opposite and perversion of various virtues is The Two Sides of Christian Virtues.