Toil, the Production Line and the Call to Live Deeply
The most memorable job I ever had was a temporary job just after I left the army working in a biscuit factory in charge of the cutting machine at the beginning of the production line. The upside was that this job was only four days a week. The downside was that this job involved twelve hour days stood stationary at a huge machine which was incredible old, regularly jammed meaning that instead of neat little nice biscuits or marie biscuits, it spat out huge chunks of dough. The only way to keep it running (or start it if and when it stopped) was to hit different parts of the machinery with a large wrench.
The days were long and the work was monotonous and frustrating.
This job was memorable in all the wrong ways.
The twelve hour days were tough, but the real killer was the monotony. It was difficult to envisage that there were that many people alive on the planet willing to buy marie biscuits. Who would have thought it? So many biscuits, so little time.
It was the kind of job where the days are long, the pallet is always half empty, there is always another order to fill and the world’s hunger for biscuits is never sated.
King Solomon feels this sense of frustration in all his toil,
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:17)
For Solomon, the sense of frustration in all his toil was overwhelming and resulted in him hating life. He understood that despite all his wisdom, knowledge, skill and effort the world would continue to revolve unmoved on its axis (Ecclesiastes 2:21). More than this, Solomon understands that he may amass great wealth, influence and power only to die and an idiot son inherit and squander it all (Ecclesiastes 2:21).
Solomon, however, identifies the solution to this futile expenditure of energy and effort,
A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25)
Toil is imbued with frustration. Although Solomon does not state it here, we could be more specific and write that God imbues toil with frustration. Solomon has previously observed that ‘it is an unhappy business that God has given the children of man to be busy with’ (Ecclesiastes 1:13).
Solomon understands, however, that God is similarly at work in giving men and women good gifts to enjoy. The Apostle Paul will later make this observation in his proclamation of the gospel in Lystra, assuring the people that God ‘did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving [them] rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying [their] hearts with food and gladness’ (Acts 14:17).
Solomon goes further than this and recognises that the very ability to enjoy the good gifts that God gives is in itself a gift from God.
We believe this for we have all seen evidence of men and women with wealth, power and influence who appear utterly bereft of joy. This is a sober warning to those of us who believe that we might obtain happiness through wealth and worldly success. Joy, fulfilment and satisfaction are good gifts from God.
For the believer, all this is animated with a great imperative. Jesus promises believers that he has come that we may have ‘life and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10) and fullness of joy (John 15:11 and 16:24). Paul reminds us that,
…everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5)
The truth is that, for the believer, food and drink should taste sweeter and life should be lived most deeply. The believer sees that every good thing that comes into our life is a grace gift from God as is our ability to think, breath, feel and experience. The believer receives all these things with gratitude as good gifts from our Lord and Saviour and in seeing this we respond with gratitude and joy.
We are called to live, feel and rejoice more fully than anyone else alive and all of this is worship and all of this is witness. When the world sees our thankfulness for food, relationship and life, we show them Jesus Christ. When the world sees us rejoice in the midst of suffering and sorrow, we show them Jesus Christ.
We are called to be a people who continuously rejoice, not because of our circumstances or the gifts, but because of the giver. God gives good gifts that we might see Jesus, for God has not left himself without testimony. God calls those who believe to rejoice in every circumstance that the world might see Jesus in us.