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What about Wickedness?

Sermon passage: (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22) Spoken on: July 3, 2016
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Ecclesiastes

Tags: Ecclesiastes, 传道书

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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Title: What about Wickedness?
Date: 3 July 2016
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

A while ago, there was a Korean drama that was incredibly popular, called Descendants of the Sun. “The writer of the drama, Kim Eun Sook, opened up about various netizen rumors she had been hearing about the drama. She said, “I’ve heard people say that the whole thing was a dream. If that was really how I ended the drama, I would probably have had to migrate to another country because I wouldn’t be able to live in Korea,” referring to the backlash she was almost certain to receive with such an ending. “I’ve been scolded a lot by viewers regarding my endings. I don’t think I will be making the same mistake again.”” [1]
The reason Ms. Kim had to make such a clarification was because the “finale of Kim's earliest hit LOVERS IN PARIS (2004) was bizarre and so totally wrong that you still feel robbed 12 years later. After following the love story of a businessman and his one-time housekeeper for more than 19 episodes, the show dropped them in the last 15 minutes and introduced another businessman and another housekeeper. The previous couple reappeared as characters in a screenplay being written by the present housekeeper.” [2] Fans of Descendants of the Sun didn’t want the ending to be like Lovers in Paris: that it was all just a dream or personal fantasy.

I find this story amusing because of this sense of entitlement from the fans. They feel so invested in the drama that they think they deserve a satisfactory ending. Is this reasonable? Where does this sense of entitlement stem from? This also got me thinking about the human mentality towards happy endings. I believe our desires for happy endings in dramas or books are reflective of our yearnings for fruitful endings in our own lives. Of course, fruitful endings can mean different things to different people, but there are some common themes. In final episodes of dramas, we often see justice served, evil being punished, or at the very least, being regretful or in repentance. We also like scenes where the broken or dysfunctional family finally resolves their conflicts, and is back together in harmony. Or lovers overcome their obstacles and live happily ever after. If any drama ends with the evil getting away scot-free, or everything ending in tatters, or simply all just a dream, then we can imagine the uproar from the audience, especially so in a popular drama. This is what I wonder: Do we have the same perspectives and expectations towards real life? I suspect so. Look deep within yourself. You may feel you deserve to see justice in life. You feel you deserve to be rewarded for your efforts. You may feel that at the end of the day, if you have been a good character in your life story, then you deserve a happy ending.

But life sometimes doesn’t work that way. To quote Clint Eastwood in the movie Unforgiven: “Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.” What you may observe in life, and what you may personally gain out of life, may not be correlated to any deserving or undeserving. Ecclesiastes 3: 16 And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there. There is something definitely wrong with the observed world, but it is there, plainly. It is part and parcel of the reality of life. The same Preacher who declared in Ecclesiastes 3: 11 God has made everything beautiful in its time; this same Preacher also observed the blatant injustices of life. These are seemingly 2 contradictory statements, and I don’t think we should be in a hurry to reconcile them. We might try to explain, “God made everything beautiful, so injustices must also be beautiful.” No, please don’t ever do that. In our passage today, the Preacher seemed to have assembled his various thoughts on this topic of injustice, further related to his earlier topic of God’s timing, putting them together so that we may ponder over the tensions between these statements. And that’s what we will do today. To think about these statements, and let all the tensions wrestle within us.

We start by facing the facts of life. There are places where we expect justice and judgment to be served. This is especially so for the courts. Yet injustices do happen even now as they did in the past. It doesn’t even have anything to do with corruption. You may have heard of the Stanford rape case.
Stanford University student Brock Turner faced up to 14 years in state prison when he was convicted in March of three felonies related to the rape of a drunk unconscious fellow student, and prosecutors had asked for six years. Yet, the sentence Turner received for the crimes was: six months in county jail and three years of probation. The “judge had ordered much less, saying a harsher sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, a star swimmer who could have made it to the Olympics. Like his father, Brock’s lawyers portrayed the white, blond-haired, blue-eyed student to the jury as a talented athlete with a bright future ahead of him.” [3]
The light sentencing led to mass outrage in America, and even criticism from our Law Minister on the court processes, where the victim was subjected to harsh interrogations. “"Cases like this can diminish confidence in the system as a whole," said Mr Shanmugam. "I read the young woman's account of what she had to go through in Court, being subjected to a highly offensive line of questions.” Mr Shanmugam said the sentence of six months in a county jail and probation "borders on the absurd".” [4] Just like the preacher observed, in the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

Today, I want to talk about the topic of injustices. It was yet another one of those observations by the Preacher that sometimes life does not work out the way we feel it should. Injustices can come in the form of social injustice like unfair court system, racial prejudice, gender inequality etc. It can also be as personal as an unfair boss, a gossip about you, or favoritism in the family. Life does not work out the way we feel it should. I started the sermon with a reflection on happy endings. And I think that is a common human sentiment. We feel entitled to happy endings. If God were writing the script to our lives, then we feel that is the way it should be written. I’ve invested my life in this for so long; I deserve a good ending to this episode. For all my efforts, I deserve to see this resulting in something fruitful. This is why injustices feel so upsetting. We feel that if God were writing the script, it should not be like this. But brothers and sisters, that is only fantasy. Come back to reality and read the Bible. The Bible does not describe God as a scriptwriter and we as mere actors. At the very least, I am not Song Joong Ki. The Bible describes God walking with us, and it is a dynamic interactive relationship. God may be very powerful, but we still have to co-create this journey ahead together.

So how do we handle injustices? What is our role in this co-creative process? First of all, let me state the obvious: Just because the world is unjust, it doesn’t mean you can be unjust. You have to live in righteousness. You cannot even be unjust in your retaliation. You cannot return like for like. If the injustice has got to do with people lying, it doesn’t mean you can lie, it doesn’t mean you can gossip about the person in return. As Paul says in Ephesians 4: 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

That last part is crucial: In your anger do not sin. This is my second advice. In your anger do not sin. That line from Paul is a quote from Psalm 4. It is a good reminder that when there is injustice, we are angry. But in order not to sin, if you have a complaint, you can complain to God. Psalm 4: Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. And if Psalm 4 is not enough, then you double it and use Psalm 44. Psalm 44: 23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. 24 Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? Many of the Psalms are lament psalms that appeal to God in their misery. If you feel angry about injustice, pray to God using Psalm 4. If still angry, use Psalm 44. If still angry, then write your own, Psalm 444.

Ecclesiastes 3: 17 I said to myself, “God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.” One may interpret this statement to mean that God will do all the necessary judging, and so we just sit back during injustices and wait for God. I don’t think that’s right. My interpretation is that this statement of faith should make us all the more active in dealing with injustices. We can be active against injustice by speaking for the powerless, fighting for fairness, or simply supporting and praying for welfare organisations. We should actively do that because we know that we have God fighting alongside us. Think of all the prophets who spoke out against injustices in the Old Testament, judgment eventually came upon the wicked. This is my third advice on this topic: Be active against injustices, and learn to trust in God’s timing.

On this topic, the Preacher also mentions death: 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth? Why is death mentioned in this topic? Why does it mention that we don’t really know what happens after death? I think death is mentioned to give us some proper perspectives in our pursuit of justice, specifically, the perspective of human limitations. It is right to fight for justice. But we must be careful. We can be blinded in our pursuit. We can be consumed by vengeance. It might easily override other concerns, such as our means, or cause collateral damages. In the pursuit for righteousness, we can become self-righteous. We may think that our fairness is the only interpretation of what is fair. But justice is not above everything. It doesn’t even belong to us. In the end, whether good or evil, whether you win or lose the fight, we all must meet our Maker. Justice belongs to God.

What does it mean to think about justice with death as a human limitation? It means that evil will never have the final victory. We may feel disheartened in our fight when we lose against injustice. Death reminds us that justice will come in God’s timing. On the other hand, it also means that vengeance is not a reward, it is not a gain. We pursue justice for the blessing of others. But if it is about personal satisfaction, it will be like chasing after the wind. Your victory will feel empty on your deathbed. And so in life, we aim to do what is right, and to make things right; but we learn to leave the final judgment to God.

Lastly the Preacher again reminds us: 22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. We can still enjoy life even in the midst of injustices, in the midst of fighting to fix what’s wrong in our lives. “Sadly, many of us continually postpone our happiness – indefinitely. It’s not that we consciously set out to do so, but that we keep convincing ourselves, “Someday I’ll be happy.”” [5] This is especially true in our pursuit of justice. Some of us may think that we can be happy only when everything is fair, and everything is right and in order. For example, thinking that “Only when this is a fair system, or fair working environment, then I can be happy working here.” But there will always be something wrong. Something unfair that we need to resolve or fix. “Meanwhile life keeps moving forward. The truth is, there’s no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when? Your life will always be filled with challenges. It’s best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway. One of my favorite quotes comes from Alfred D’ Souza. He said, “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business. (I need to resolve this situation. I need to make things right.) Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” [6]

Brothers and sisters, injustices are part and parcel of life and so I intentionally made today’s sermon full of applications. As a society of consumers and as a world full of internet warriors, we have become angrier and angrier. Everything is not right in our eyes. It is true that we can do things better, and make things better for others. But I hope my applications can help you to live well, to trust in God, to be reminded of what truly matters, and most of all, to live a happy life right now.

[5]Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, p 169
[6]Ibid, p 169-170