When it comes to the meaningless of religion, we pastors can exposit quite eloquently about the evils of false religion. How many 'good Christians' need to be found guilty of abuse before we listen to survivors and advocate for accountability? How long must the poor and oppressed cry out for justice? How often do we need to give up sweets for Lent before we long less for weight-loss and more for drawing nearer to God?
These angry questions are also filled with lament, lament on account of the harm that false religion has done to individuals and society. I know too many stories of people who have turned away from God because they had been taught a picture of God that could not relate to their lived experience. I want to argue with these people that their picture is false. I want to yell at the people who taught them a limited view of God. I want to force feed all of them Ecclesiastes (and the Old Testament prophets) and demand that they find a place in their belief system for questions and uncertainty and justice.
Then I took my anger and lament to Ecclesiastes 5 and started pondering how this text might shape our prayer of the people. The Spirit, as the Spirit often does, graciously convicted me through the words written there. For as much Ecclesiastes 5 focuses on how religion has been abused, the focus is more on how words are abused.
The text says:
May your words be few.
Do not be rash with your words.
It is better that you not make a vow.
Many words are meaningless.
How do these words relate to my anger and lament? I don't know. I believe that there is a good and fitting place for anger and lament. Yet, at what point might my words become as unhelpful as the false religion that I'm yelling about?
As I wondered what actually is true religion, I heard an invitation to silence, an invitation 'to draw near to listen,' as Ecclesiastes 5:1 puts it. And I was reminded of the words that we often attribute to St. Francis, 'Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.'
This evening at Wine Before Breakfast, join us as we ponder further the truth of Ecclesiastes.