"There is nothing new under the sun,” wrote King Solomon. It is Thanksgiving week, three thousand years later, and there is still nothing new under the sun.
People are living and dying, marrying and divorcing, laughing and arguing, killing and being killed, succeeding and failing. There are wars and politicians and maneuvering for governmental advantage, territorial gain, and sociological dominion. There are winners and losers, ascendants and those fading from history’s dominance, posers and deposed.
There is nothing new under the sun.
Anyone who says we live in the darkest period known to humanity, or that we have the greatest atmosphere of political acrimony since the founding of the country, or that mankind is more morally destitute than at any other time doesn’t know much about mankind’s trek through the annals of time.
Anyone who says the world is improving, that mankind is becoming more humane, noble minded, and altruistic is espousing the same sentiment and worldview that persisted following World War I. Surely, mankind will not repeat this folly, they thought. One would think so, but within fifteen years of Armistice Day 1918 the world was spinning toward a more grievous bloodletting. And with the news of this morning the world continues careening toward a re-visitation of the Cold War, the race riots of fifty years ago, and the religious wars of a thousand years ago. Our leaders are following the playbooks of their predecessors.
There is nothing new under the sun.
From where I’m sitting, this casts two shadows of thought across the plain of my thinking. First, for better or worse, there is noteworthy perspective to be offered by those who have preceded us. Second, there is an opportunity to gather our bearings and make determinations that bring our perspective to what lies ahead. Just because there is nothing new under the sun doesn’t mean we cannot learn from the past and embrace the future with determination, hope, and confidence.
Optimists look on the bright side while pessimists can be cynical and dark. Then, there are those who like Pollyanna stick their heads in either the clouds or the sand. There are also realists, and while I think we all play each role from time to time, I’m prone more to the realist’s outlook.
Buried in the middle of a paragraph that is an amazing snippet of literature, the Apostle Paul says, “And be thankful” (ref. Col. 3:12-17, esp. v.15b). Three words, but three words that might mean for me—if I can grasp them—that the sun might look new and different tomorrow when the day dawns.
While there is nothing new under the sun—overall—there is plenty that is new to us, and a host of things that are irregular, mysterious, scary, uncertain...and a lot of other positive and negative attributes as well by this point in the year. The same will be true next year, in fact. So when King Solomon penned his book called, Ecclesiastes, he couldn’t have had in mind the specific challenges you and I face. Instead, he had in mind the principle of life and the living we do under the sun regardless of his antiquity or our modernity.
In another passage, also penned by Paul, he expands his counsel to say, “Always give thanks for all things” (Eph. 5:20). It’s not that difficult to find something to be thankful for, but with this statement Paul identifies everything under the sun and instructs thankfulness in all things.
It is one thing to be thankful as a disposition—to determine to be thankful, and to find thankfulness in something each day. It is another matter altogether to be thankful for everything.
Last time I checked, which was a moment ago, there are some bad things in this world. Be thankful for everything?
Even though I’ve heard a number of sermons to this affect, I do not believe the Bible means I’m supposed to literally be thankful for the persecution of Christians in Syria, the genocide in northern Iraq, the dehumanization of women in the fundamental Islamic communities, the cancer eating at my neighbor’s six-month old, or a host of other offenses that include some within my front door. I may as well be thankful for the fall of mankind in Eden, the point of origin for everything that afflicts mankind.
Rather, I think what Paul means is that our default perspective must be a consideration of each circumstance in our lives under the sun, boldly exploring how the endurance required of us in these years of life enlightens what we know of God and find within ourselves. In this way, we live beyond while embracing the present. We approach life realistically, but do not lose hope. And from this vantage point, being thankful for each moment becomes philosophically possible and theologically reasonable.
The baseline presupposition must be the deep conviction that life under the sun is transitory, just as it was for our predecessors and will be for our successors. In other words, we were not created to live here and find ultimate fulfillment. At best, we can live here as Christ did and find shadows hinting at what true life must portend.
Fundamentally we are on a journey, passing under this sun of ours as though ambassadors to a foreign land, learning from those who have gone ahead, marking the way with cairns from our souls for those who follow, fixing our eyes on what lies ahead. To meet life in this courageous fashion requires internal confidence anchored in the Spirit and a determined character to live true while truly living.
Jesus indicated that He is the author and finisher of what we believe, literally of our faith (Heb. 12:2). If this is true—and it must be lest our faith unravel like a cheap rug—then nothing catches Him off guard. There is nothing with which He is unfamiliar, nothing over which He must ponder or reconfigure, and nothing significant enough to derail what He has perfected.
And with this realization—that there is nothing new under the sun to Jesus—it seems easier (that is a relative term) to be thankful for the array of noise in my life. By definition, I’m using “noise” to collectively encompass every distraction, impediment, pain, and aspect of living in this fallen world hurtling around our sun that would compromise the solitude of quiet confidence.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting thankfulness for the noise, per se. Rather, I’m thankful for things beyond the noise. I’m thankful for all things in the sense that all things facilitate access to a sought-after reward not usually attainable otherwise. To decline thankfulness is to choose hopeless resolution that this life under the sun is all there is to me.
In truth, I fight against the noise, the limitation, the compromise, and the pain that afflicts me under the sun—and may God’s Spirit give you and me the wherewithal to kick against this darkness until it bleeds daylight and/or you and I make our exit into the next life. But in my wrestling and contending, my waging of war against the enemy of my soul who generates the cacophony, I am thankful.
I’m not thankful for what afflicts me and those around me, but I am thankful that I am in the game of life under this sun of ours. I’m thankful to be running the race set before me. I’m thankful that by living I will know my Heavenly Father better and that the likeness of Jesus Christ will be formed within me.
When I look around the news of the day, there is nothing new under the sun. This boring recitation of human history begs the question: How should I live?
I’m thankful for those who have gone ahead of me. I’m thankful for those surrounding me. I’m thankful for the confidence that eternal meaning has already been cast in my heart without shadow by Him who authored life, perfected it, and stated that He is the origin and source of light. And, I’m thankful that by meeting each moment and circumstance with due diligence I can leave my mark for those following my footsteps.
This attitude—for me—aligns the fallen planet of Earth with my eternal viewpoint. This perspective of gratitude and thankfulness affords me the opportunity to get my game face on each day under the sun, knowing that whatever today includes it is isolated through experience into a cleaner, clearer understanding of who God is and who I am in Him.
For this, I’m thankful.
I hope and pray you are encouraged by these thoughts. I mean them to be inspiring while wrapped in realism. If our faith is insufficient for each day, then it is irrelevant. If our faith in Jesus Christ is irrelevant, then there is indeed something new under the sun.
But such is not the case.
The One in whom we trust is escorting our souls through this recitation of daily darkness to a place where all things are new. By living here, we have the opportunity to enjoy being there.