Do you feel you need to be perfect? Do you look around your life, find it is less than perfect and feel like a failure? You’re not alone. For many of us, life feels like this, even if a little bit. And I’m right there with you. I see various ways my house or property isn’t perfect. I see how my vehicles aren’t perfect. I see how my financial situation isn’t perfect. I could go on and on, whether it is about body image, work on my dissertation, the church, parenting, etc. The result is that it is easy to feel failure creeping in all over. Know what I mean? If so there is hope.
As the Teacher continues teaching proverbs about how to navigate our complex world, he has help for those of us who feel like failures. Look at Ecclesiastes 7:27-8:1.
Here is Dorsey’s Translation: “27 But regarding perfection, this is what I have found, says the Teacher. After considering one thing after another, 28 I realized I could not find what I was seeking. I have not found one perfectly righteous man among a thousand, nor have I found a perfectly righteous woman among them. 29 What I found instead is this: God created mankind perfectly righteous and upright, but human beings have developed a multitude of ways to pervert God’s good design. 8:1 Who is the wise person who understands such things? Such understanding will brighten his face with joy.”
The Teacher is back with another ironic proverb about perfection. Perfectionism is impossible for us to attain, and yet at the same time, we are actually pretty good at being unrighteous. Do you see the irony there? The way of life that is arguably the best way, namely the pursuit of perfection, is impossible for us, but the way of life that is definitely the wrong way, namely the pursuit of evil, well, we’re really good at it. So what do we do with this ironic reality about humanity?
It is wise, and will be bring us joy, if we can admit this. Is the Teacher saying it is okay that we are unrighteous and imperfect? Is he saying that we should just pursue sin and wickedness? Of course not. He already said we should pursue wisdom and obey God. What he is saying is that there is a great freedom in not having to be perfect. You and I don’t have to be perfect. If we don’t have to be perfect, then what should we do? The Teacher will try to answer that question in the next post.
In addition to avoiding perfectionism, the Teacher has an important clarification that some of you might have already had cross your minds. And that is this thought: If we don’t have to be perfect, then we can make our own rules. We could think, “I no longer have to worry about traffic laws, and tax laws, and Covid restrictions, because, hey, the Bible says I don’t have to be perfect.” If we thought that, we would be wrong.
Well, let’s read 8:2-5a. Dorsey’s Translation: “2 Obey the king, as you have sworn by oath to do. 3 Do not be quick to walk out of his presence, and do not join in a bad cause, for he can do whatever he pleases. 4 The king’s word is authoritative. Who can say to him, “What are you doing?” 5 Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm.”
See the Proverb here: obey the king. We don’t have a king like Israel did when this was likely written, but the principle is easily transferable. Obey the governing authorities.
If your local township imposes a storm water fee, you pay it. If you don’t like it, there is an appeals process, and you follow it.
If your teacher says, no texting in class, you keep your phone away in class.
If your boss says, you have to wear a tie, wear a tie.
Obey the authorities. Notice how the Teacher expands on the proverb. What he is saying is this: if you obey the governing authorities, life will almost always go better for you. If you don’t obey, the authorities will crack down on you, and it will be painful.
But what if the authorities are corrupt or asking you to do something wrong? This is where proverbs show their limitations. Proverbs are not true in every single situation. If an authority is being corrupt, or unjust, or asking you to participate in something that goes against the will of God, then the proverb no longer applies, because there is a higher standard that overrules the proverb, and that God’s standard. In those situations, then, we follow God’s way, and we practice civil disobedience, even if means we will pay unjust consequences up to and including the loss of our lives.
This has been illustrated for us so often this year. Many people in our culture have experienced the injustice of the governing authorities, as they have been treated unfairly. This is at the heart of the movement for racial justice that we see in our land. I know it is messy. Too often one injustice leads to a response of another injustice. The shooting of an unarmed innocent man leads to setting buildings on fire, destroying cars, and stealing items. Therefore the civil disobedience we advocate is non-violent resistance.
 Dorsey points out that the Hebrew omits “not.”