The Futility of Human Toil

Farmer on land

I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.

Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just as the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

From the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.


I think I may have shared the above passage on the blog before, but it doesn’t matter. It is timeless in its message and in its beauty. I find it comforting to reflect on the futility, or ‘vanity’ (also sometimes translated ‘meaninglessness’) of everything we do during our lives as human beings.

Consider the matter yourself — in three billion years time, what will be the legacy of everything that you currently strive to achieve? When looked at in its broader context, is anything you do really meaningful?

One message that comes out of the book of Ecclesiastes is that we should take pleasure in our toil, and simply enjoy our food and drink, because in light of the big picture concerning who we are and the ultimate meaninglessness of all things, this is perhaps the best way to approach life.

Perhaps those who celebrate the idea of ‘living in the now’ have caught onto the same kind of truth that Solomon is expressing in the book of Ecclesiastes. Though, having said this, it’s important to place the book of Ecclesiastes in the wider context of the Bible in which it appears; a context which says that the purpose of human life is to serve and glorify God through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I find it interesting to consider whether any earthly service to Jesus Christ will matter in billions of years. It’s certainly true that the Christian Gospel gives believers the hope of ‘eternal life’, but this is an idea which is difficult for the finite mind to grasp. As I have commented elsewhere, eternity is a very, very, very long time. Jesus apparently walked the Earth two thousand years ago, but isn’t two millennia like a mere blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things? What of all the civilizations and universes that God may have created billions of years in the past, or may create billions of years in the future?

Pascal’s Wager makes a compelling case for accepting the Christian Gospel — perhaps it is too dangerous not to do so. But do we really have any choice in the matter anyway? The New Testament describes how salvation only ever comes due to the electing grace of God, and if this is the case, salvation is entirely within God’s control, and entirely outside of our control.

I hope that anyone who finds these thoughts that I am sharing interesting will consider reading my book entitled The Only Question You Ever Need Ask. The book, which is an essay in book form, focuses on a single question which I believe gets to the heart of the matter of whether or not to embrace Christianity. The book may not provide you with a conclusive answer on the matter, but it will certainly cause you to think through many of the central issues related to the Christian Gospel; including salvation, eternity, predestination, and the afterlife. To pick up a copy of the book, click here. Thank you for reading!

Deep Thoughts About God (video series)

Back in March 2019, I released a book entitled God’s Grand Game: Divine Sovereignty and the Cosmic Playground, which contains a comprehensive exposition of my philosophical perspective. The book explores the divine sovereignty versus human free will predicament with reference to the doctrines of Christianity and other religions (as well as the scientific worldview) and is the result of more than 10 years of study and reflection.

As I wrote the book, I had in mind that I would like to produce a series of videos to accompany it. I intentionally made the chapters short and punchy, imagining as I wrote them that they would be converted into scripts for short and punchy videos in due course. My intention was always to create a book that works well as a book and a video series that works well as a video series; and that the two would complement one another.

After the release of the book, I focused on filming the video series, which I am delighted to introduce to you here and which I very much hope that you will watch and enjoy. There are twenty videos in the series tackling subjects related to divine sovereignty and free will, as well as intro and outro videos. To get you started, the intro video is embedded below, and you are welcome to watch the entire playlist over on YouTube if this is of interest.

Finally, to pick up a copy of God’s Grand Game, simply click here and select your preferred retailer.

Ingrascoth

Clocks

The One True God is self-existing; he always has been and always will be. How old, therefore, can we realistically say God is? The very question is incomprehensible. Whatever span of time we ascribe to God’s existence, he has existed for infinitely longer than that. Actually, it might make more sense to say we cannot meaningfully attribute the characteristic of age to God, although in Christianity he is described as the Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end. In reality, there was no beginning and there will be no ending to God’s existence.

It would be great if there was a way that we could capture the essence of the above paragraph in a word that we can use in day to day conversation. For example, a person might be talking to their friend about their job which they have been doing for 25 years, and they might feel that 25 years is an incredibly long time to be working in a role. But then, they might feel they want to make the point that while 25 years is a long time, the amount of time God has been ‘working’ is infinitely longer.

My suggestion is that we coin a new phrase, ‘ingrascoth’, which we can define as, “indicating that God is infinitely greater in his attributes than we can express”. The phrase is short for the expression, ‘in the grand scheme of things’. So, for instance, a person may comment, “You know what, Martha? I realised today I’ve just surpassed the anniversary of my 25th year in this wretched job. What do you think about that, Hank?” And Hank might reply, “Martha, you made a big commitment, but, well, ‘ingrascoth’, as they say!” Ingrascoth indeed.

As well as applying to time, the phrase could also be used when referring to anything that needs to be put in its proper perspective or context, taking into account the infinite nature of God. So, I may have to go to the dentist, and comment, “It’s going to hurt, but ingrascoth!”, reflecting the truth that God could make me suffer for an infinite amount of time with agonising severity if he willed to do so.


This post is the latest installment in my Praise and Prose series, which examines the way we use language in light of certain truths concerning God’s nature and his absolute sovereignty over the unfolding of all events, which is a key principle of my philosophical perspective.

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Until next time! 🙌😁

Thoughts After Reading the Qur’an

Man in mosque

On several occasions in the past I have owned copies of the Qur’an, but read very little of it. This is because the translation from Arabic into English was very poor. Actually, I should note that to use the word “translation” when referring to an English version of the Qur’an is often considered incorrect by Muslims, because Muslims believe God revealed the Qur’an in Arabic and that it cannot be accurately translated. Certain stylistic nuances of the text are necessarily lost in any English translation. Muslims prefer to refer to English translations as “transliterations”, a term intended to reflect the idea that English translations will never be wholly sufficient.

Over the Christmas holidays, I was browsing online and I noticed there was a relatively new translation of the Qur’an that I hadn’t seen before. The translation was published as part of an Oxford World Classics series, and the text was translated by a person named M. A. S. Abdel Haleem. I decided to buy the Kindle version of this translation and see how I got on.

After reading the very interesting and informative introduction to the book, I began to read the text of Haleem’s translation of the Qur’an, and I was immediately struck by the clarity and power of the text. This translation, I immediately felt, is in a whole other league to the translations I had attempted to read previously. Reading the text was a joyful experience, and I felt none of the resistance I had felt when attempting to read the other translations many years ago.

The Qur’an is said to have been revealed to the prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel over a period of many years. The Qur’an testifies within itself to its own authority in a very interesting way — on various occasions it challenges the reader to “produce a verse like this yourself” (I am paraphrasing) if you believe these words are not divine revelation. I have to be honest and say that the words I read were indeed very powerful, and I felt no doubt — much to my surprise — that the text is indeed of divine origin.

A few years ago I read James White’s book, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an, in which White intends to discredit the text of the Qur’an. White focuses his book on what he believes to be problems with the supposed authority and inerrancy of the Qur’an. However, as I was reading Abdel Haleem’s translation, I began to feel a kind of disdain towards James White’s project because, to me, the text seemed to be so obviously divinely inspired.

I would describe the content of the Qur’an as a message about the fact that there is one true God. This message was given to the Arab people via the prophet Muhammad. The Qur’an mentions Christianity and Judaism a great deal, and in the text there are many passages referring to stories found in the Bible. It was really interesting, for instance, to read the story of Joseph and his technicolour dream coat, and many other stories from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures that were seemingly revealed to Muhammad without him actually having encountered these stories in his own life prior to receiving the revelation from the Angel Gabriel. Muslim readers can correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems the divine nature of the Qur’an is believed by Muslims to be evidenced in the fact that Muhammad could not have had knowledge of these Bible stories aside from divine revelation.

There are certainly things contained within the Qur’an that cannot be easily reconciled with Biblical Christianity. One example is, of course, that Jesus is described as a prophet, rather than having a divine nature as most Christians believe. The Qur’an does, however, refer to Jesus’ miraculous powers. The doctrine of the Trinity is also questioned in the text, in that the Qur’an teaches one should not refer to God as ‘three’, because God is One. I made many notes as I was reading the text and I have a great many questions that I would like to discuss with a Muslim scholar, if God ever provides me with an opportunity to do so.

It seems to me that the Qur’an is a revelation given to the Arabs which is supposed to be a light to their people, in the same way at the Jews received a light in the form of the Mosaic law, and Christians received divine revelation in the teaching of Jesus. The Qur’an is intended to be a corrective text; there are repeated warnings in its pages that people must not ‘overstep the mark’ in their beliefs — for instance, by saying God has a Son, when in reality, God does not beget children. The Qur’an attempts to put right supposed mistakes made by the ‘people of the book’ (the Jews and Christians) who it alleges have strayed from the reality of who God is.

I didn’t read the whole of the Qur’an. I read about two thirds of it. The reason why I didn’t read the whole Qur’an is that I believe the revelation is not for me personally, taking into account my Christian heritage and also the role that God has given me in life — that I am to respect religious differences and help people to overcome obstacles to interfaith understanding. My decision not to read the whole Qur’an should be perceived as indicating my respect for the Muslim people; the Qur’an is their revelation and should be respected as such. I do not need to know everything about the Qur’an for the life purpose God has given me. If there are things I do need to learn about the Qur’an, I trust that God will reveal these things to me through my future interactions with Muslims.

At the centre of the teaching contained in the Qur’an is the idea that we will all face judgment from God one day. It is strongly emphasised in the text that Muslims must be charitable. I love the fact that the text is repetitive in very many places for the sake of emphasis; for instance, the phrase ‘God does whatever He pleases’ is repeated at the end of many passages throughout the Qur’an. As someone who has a very high view of God’s sovereignty, this was a delight to me.

For many people reading this article, it will perhaps seem unexpected and surprising that I should give such respect and reverence to the Qur’an. However, please do not pass judgment upon me or the Qur’an until you have at least read a portion of Abdel Haleem’s translation / transliteration for yourself. I feel that reading the Qur’an has helped cement my own passion for interfaith dialogue and understanding, as there are clearly so many opportunities for fascinating debate when comparing the Qur’an to the teaching found in the Bible and Torah.


Please note that there may well be errors and imperfections in what I have written. This post was written to share some thoughts and is not intended to be all-encompassing. I apologise if anyone of any faith is offended by anything I have written, or if I have made mistakes. I have tried to write sincerely and truthfully. Please email me via the contact page if you feel I have made any factual errors. Thank you for reading.

Re-imagining Everyday Language in Light of God’s Sovereignty

Everyday English book

Last year, I began a blog series called Praise and Prose in which my aim was to do exactly what the title of this blog post expresses. It was an interesting exercise, and definitely worthwhile. I actually planned to publish more posts as part of that series than I did, potentially turning the series into a short book if I had enough material, but I got carried away with other things and left the series hanging somewhat.

I think I’m going to try and progress that series in 2021. I have plenty more ideas for the series in the notes app I use to brainstorm ideas for blog posts. Also, this year I’d like to start posting blog posts less often but more regularly. This feeling is partly inspired by fellow blogger Retrospective Lily, who consistently publishes every Friday at 7pm (UK time, she’s in the States). I always feel it demonstrates commitment and consideration for followers when bloggers keep to a set schedule. Of course, life is unpredictable, and we all have different demands on our time — blogging to a schedule is not a ‘one size fits all’ thing, but a good goal for me personally to aspire towards.

You can catch up on my Praise and Prose series thus far by clicking this category link.

Let me know in the comments whether you have a vision for what you would like to do with your blog in 2021. Also, let me know whether you have any ideas that would make good subject matter for the Praise and Prose series, and also if there’s a specific time you feel works best for publishing weekly blog posts, and why.

Thank you for following Perfect Chaos and Happy New Year!