Ecclesiastes 7:1-4; 1 Peter 1:3-9 (Watch on YouTube)
Here’s a riddle for you. He’s “a bit of a pessimist. He is consistently grumpy and gloomy….[He] can be relied on to think the worst in any situation.” Who is it?
Given what we’ve been reading the past few weeks, I’d expect you to say “Ecclesiastes” or (to use his Hebrew name) Qohelet. But these words actually come from a description of Eeyore, that gloomy but lovable donkey from Winnie the Pooh. As I read through our passage today, it struck me that Qohelet is something of a biblical Eeyore.
Eeyore, like Ecclesiastes, just has a hard time finding the joy in much of anything. Here are some quotes from Eeyore that we could easily imagine coming from Qohelet. Speaking of the weather: “Don’t blame me if it rains.” Of birthdays: “Here today and gone tomorrow.” About his friends in the Hundred Acre Woods: “No brain at all, some of them, only grey fluff that’s blown into their heads by mistake.” About a new, bright red tail: “Sure is a cheerful color. Guess I’ll have to get used to it.”
In a project in abnormal psychology, a group of college students and faculty members assessed the mental health of fictional characters. Poor Eeyore was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. They might have arrived at the same conclusion if they’d taken a look at Ecclesiastes.
His words certainly indicate many of the symptoms: a depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, suicidal thoughts. He expresses his disillusionment with wisdom and with pleasure, both of which, in his opinion, are merely vanity and a chasing after wind. He considers death better than life, if you have the misfortune of being born at all. In this week’s passage, he observes that sorrow is better than laughter, honoring the end of life is preferable to celebrating a birth, attending a wake is better than going to a party and, if you’re wise, you’ll choose to spend your time at the funeral home rather than hanging out at a popular watering hole.
Depression is no laughing matter. It’s a serious medical condition that can and should be treated by a mental health professional. If you find yourself identifying with Ecclesiastes because you’re having similar thoughts and feelings that are debilitating and seriously eroding your ability to enjoy life, I urge you to seek the help that’s available.
But, even if we’re not suffering from clinical depression, I think most of us are experiencing more than the usual emotional ups and downs as we go through all that civil unrest and political dysfunction and the pandemic have piled on our plates. These things just wear on our spirits. It’s hard to get away from, with our 24/7 news cycle and all the sources of information that bombard us. At some gas stations, you can’t even fill your tank without a newscast blaring from a screen on the pump or from a loudspeaker overhead.
Once we start reading or watching stories about how the world appears to be falling apart, we can’t seem to stop ourselves. There’s even a new term for this: “doomscrolling.” Doomscrolling is where you just keep scrolling or surfing through all your news feeds or TV stations, taking in one dire news story after another. And psychologists are getting concerned about the toll it’s taking on our mental health by making us even more anxious.
Blame evolution for our fascination with the dark side. Psychiatrists say that human beings are hardwired to focus on the negative, because bad stuff can hurt us. It’s a survival mechanism that kept our human ancestors safe from danger. We may not be trying to avoid being the next meal for a saber-toothed tiger, but we do want to avoid things that can hurt us. So, we constantly monitor the statistics on the coronavirus or the effects of the deteriorating environment or increasing tension with other countries and between citizens of our own. We are wary of people who are different from us. We are reluctant to take risks that may leave us disappointed or disillusioned.
But bad news is not the only thing we are hardwired for. We are also hardwired for joy. We are created in the image of a God who so treasures joy that even the wilderness and dry land are made glad, and the desert is made to blossom abundantly rejoice with singing. God, and that means that we are also created with the capacity for that joy. We are created to experience joy even in the midst of our trials. We have cause for rejoicing, even when the headlines, or a jaded Old Testament teacher, or a gloomy fictional donkey try to convince us otherwise.
Brother David Steindl-Rast says this about joy: it’s “the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” In fact, you might say that joy is the happiness that depends on something that has already happened: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. What has already happened is that in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, we have been born anew into a living hope. We have already been included in an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. We’ve been assured that earthly life is so precious that God came to share it with us in Jesus, and we’ve been promised that the relationship we begin with God in this life will continue forever.
The news we hear today about a world that seems to be spinning wildly out of control cannot take away the joy we find in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. These earthly trials are merely rough patches. They are bumps in the road. They are also opportunities. Because when we faithfully respond to what is happening around us, our responses are a living testimony to our faith in the One who makes joy possible.
During this pandemic, I think we’ve all come to appreciate how often we share our joy with others around a table. In a few moments, we’ll gather around the Lord’s table. We will be reminded of the joy of being part of Christ’s family. We will come to his table in trust and expectation because, “although we have not seen him, we love him; and even though we do not see him now, we believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for we are receiving the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls.”
If you look up more quotes from Eeyore, most of them will be as gloomy as the ones I read earlier—ones that are right in line with what we’ve been hearing from Ecclesiastes. But even Eeyore has the capacity for hope and, perhaps, for joy. Because, amidst all of his gloom, Eeyore was also able to say to his friends, “It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine.”
There is sunshine in the world for Eeyore. In a couple of weeks, we’ll see that there is even sunshine in the world for Ecclesiastes. And, the good news is that there is sunshine in the world for us. When the world looks dark, all we need to do is look to the Light that shines in the darkness. All we need to do is to put our faith and trust in the Light which the darkness did not and cannot overcome. In the light of Jesus Christ, we can rejoice, now and forever, with an indescribable and glorious joy. Amen.
~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young