Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Life is Far Worse than an iPhone Game, Therefore Harvest the Day! (Ecclesiastes 3:16-5:7)

There is nothing more to life than there is to Zombie Farm (like Farmville but with zombies), the Qoholet might as well have said. You plow the ground and plant crops and zombies. It rains. Sometimes the zombies are duds even though your lifeforce is at 100%. The zombie contingent battles Old McDonnell for brains.
Invading Old McDonnell's Farm, Zombie Farm Potato-head, Tomato-head, Turnip-Arm Mutations, Zombie Farm
Tomatoes and zombies ready to be harvested, Zombie Farm A Brain!, Zombie Farm
But at the end of the day, all that crop and clock-watching, life being put on hold, strategising and playing comes to nothing when Zombie Farm (or Farmville, Mafia Wars, Cafe World or your choice of virtual world toil) is deleted. Just like real life - no work lasts forever, there is nothing to show for all the time, battery life and energy (and relationships!) expended; it does not matter if you have slogged with wisdom and savviness or have just foolishly and randomly, after you die/are deleted there will be no memory of you or your deeds in the world. (Ecclesiastes 1-2)

The Teacher/Preacher/Gatherer observed that God's work, instead, endures forever and is perfect. And man's desire that there should be something more than an iphone game life and yet his inability to grasp it comes from God. But rather than be bitter about this, we should approach God with rightful fear and reverence, for it is God who is sovereign in the world and ordains and controls what happens, not us. Rather we should humbly enjoy the gifts that God has given us - the goodness of eating, drinking and finding satisfaction in work (Ecclesiastes 3:1-15)

If the hebel (vanity/vapour) of the Qoholet's observations so far has been the ephemerality of life and work, he now observes the wretchedness of even attempting to enjoy the simple gifts of eating, drinking and finding satisfaction in work (Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:16):

It is a fact of life that some policemen and judges, who are meant to bring criminals to justice, may themselves be corrupt; that the very people who were meant to teach children right and wrong themselves sexually abuse them (Ecclesiastes 3:16). So NGOs, human rights organisations and their brethren are ultimately unrealistically idealistic, for band-aid cannot stop the gush of evil and wickedness in the world. And even if no one is intentionally unjust, the law itself is a sledgehammer that depends heavily on the discretion of the person enforcing it. So some parents who have tragically lost their children through their own accidental absentmindedness have had to suffer excruciating trials on charges of manslaughter or even murder. And if the comments on online articles about such deaths are representative of the general public, there is little sympathy (and in fact, hateful vitriol) for the grieving parents.

This sort of reaction, says one of the interviewees in Gene Weingarten's Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?, is because
Humans have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.
They were responding in fear that they were nothing more than beasts (cf Ecclesiastes 3:18-21) - perhaps just dogs left out in the midday sun for, oops, far too long and then tossed into the rubbish. From what anyone can see, the only thing different is the law against the undignified treatment of human bodies.

Then there are some people who have suffered so much in life at the hands of others, whose lives are so tragic that they would have been better off dead. No, wait, better than death would be never having been born at all. Their oppressors are powerful and influential and there is no one to help them. (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3)

If you were someone whose entire existence was soaked with pain and all you can taste is the bitterness of injustice, you would have difficulty enjoying your food or drink.

Roasted Veggie "Free Style" Tart with Feta and Ricotta, Before the Cream and the Oven
And what of work? Man's toil and skill come not from the enjoyment of work itself but his envy of his neighbour, always anxiously striving to be better than them and to keep up with the Joneses/Tans. (Ecclesiastes 4:4). A fool who does no work starves but workaholism is also foolish (Ecclesiastes 4:5). It is pointless for one person to toil so hard all by his lonesome self if he has no one with whom to share the fruits (Ecclesiastes 4:6).

While it is wiser to work alongside another, to have a buddy in times of emergency or trouble and a warm body in the cold night; wiser to know contentment with a handful, such wisdom is in the end futile A poor boy, who through his wisdom becomes king over a countless number of people, will one day no longer know how to take advice and his former wisdom will be of no consequence to anyone (Ecclesiastes 4:9-16), just as perhaps, the younger generation does not remember the reported wisdom of Queen Elizabeth II of the UK or her concern for the welfare of her people but thinks of her as yet another self-serving celebrity who has outlived her entertainment value. It would have made no difference to them if she had been a merrymaking fool instead.

Roasted Veggie Tart
Yotam Ottolenghi's Roasted Vegetable Tart recipe
- attacked by spoons before we could get the knives out, spilling its sauteed onion guts

In view of all this, how can anyone enjoy food and drink and the work of his hands? What good is it to choose to work and act wisely while one still has to ability to do so? God has allowed injustices and unhappiness to occur so that man will see that organically, he is but dust to whom the concept of fairness ought not apply (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21). Man rages against this observation because God has put eternity in his heart, so that man suspects that he is more than moral-less molecules.

With a relationship with God comes the knowledge that there will come a day that God will judge the righteous and the wicked (Ecclesiastes 3:17). Therefore man can rejoice and (sic) fear God knowing that justice will prevail in the end and all (including himself) will be called to account for every act and word (Ecclesisates 5:1-7) and meanwhile, carpe diem (harvest the day)!

*If this reading appears a bit forced, perhaps it is part of the irony of attempting to find meaning and order in Ecclesiastes when there seems prima facie to be none, knowing that it must have some purpose however unfathomable!

Easter Everyday
Quest for Immortality: EPIC FAIL (Ecclesiastes 1:1-15)
Life is Vapour, Therefore Enjoy Life (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3:15)
Life is Far Worse than an iPhone Game, Therefore Harvest the Day! (Ecclesiastes 3:16-5:7)
Rawa Island and Godly Contentment (Ecclesiastes 5:8 - 6:9)
Fallen Frangipani, Really Wise Living (Ecclesiastes 6:10-7:29)

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