A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Friend Request from God

This church sign is pretty creative, especially as facebook continues to grow in popularity.

The New Testament Word/Phrase of the Week

The New Testament bible scholar, Dr. Tom Wright, has produced a glossary of New Testament words/phrases that is really helpful for the study of scripture. What I like most about his definition of New Testament words is that he helps us to know what a Jewish person from the 1st century would have understood these words/phrases to mean. Too often, we allow our 21st century world view to get in the way of the original meaning.

Here is the New Testament word/phrase of the week: Gehenna or Hell

Gehenna is, literally, the valley of Hinnom, on the south-west slopes of Jerusalem. From ancient times it was used as a garbage dump, smouldering with a continual fire. Already by the time of Jesus some Jews used it as an image for the place of punishment after death. Jesus' own usage blends the two meanings in his warnings both to Jerusalem itself (unless it repents, the whole city will become a smouldering heap of garbage) and to people in general (to be aware of God's final judgment).

Monday, June 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, John Wesley, I Think...

Today is John Wesley's (the 18th century founder of Methodism) birthday anniversary, I think.

Wesley's birthday is a bit confusing since he was born on June 17, 1703, according to the Julian Calendar in use at the time. In 1752 Britain joined the rest of Europe and shifted to the more accurate Gregorian Calendar. A consequence of this was to add 11 days to the calendar. From 1752 and for the rest of his life, John Wesley celebrated his birthday on June 28th.

For years, to help my 7th grade confirmation classes who were preparing for church membership to know that Methodism was started by John Wesley in 18th century England, I would remind them of John Wesley's birthday. I mistakenly gave them the date of June 17. A few years ago, I realized that June 28 (today) is the more correct date.

Putting aside the dating of Wesley's birthday for the moment, one of the theological doctrines I appreciate most about Wesley was his emphasis on prevenient grace which is the grace that comes to us before we are aware of it. Wesley believed that in order for someone to repent and enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, that person first needs God's prevenient grace to work ahead of his/her awareness and "stir" that person (Wesley's term) to accept God's grace through Christ for him/herself.

Prevenient grace is the reason why several denominations including our own practice infant baptism. We believe that God's grace works ahead of our awareness of it, although, I can make a pretty good argument that just as infants can know of their mother's love, they can also have a sense of God's love at that age.

So today, on John Wesley's birthday, I celebrate his emphasis on the theological doctrine of prevenient grace, which reminds us that grace is a gift, offered to us even before we are even aware of it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - July 4

July 4 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, July 7 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Sow What?"

Features - 6th Sunday After Pentecost; Holy Communion; & Independence Day

Scripture - Galatians 6:7-16 & Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Theme - In preparing for our July 25 “Christmas in July” celebration, we will take the time to think about how our financial gifts are making a difference in the lives of people throughout the world. The Apostle Paul wants us to move from a “so what?” mindset into a “sow what?” type of thinking in which we anticipate how God will use our financial gifts to sow seeds of hope and love to people throughout the world.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Article Hitting Home with Tomorrow's Sermon (June 27)

Check out this article on a tongue in cheek call from immigrant farm workers, "C'mon, take our jobs!" It touches on the sermon topic tomorrow which is based on Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.

Great Question - "May I Pray for You?"

This great quote comes from Rev. Jorge Acevedo, one of the keynote speakers at our West Ohio Annual Conference worship services earlier this month.

One of the best ways to share your faith in Jesus Christ with someone is to ask this simple question, "May I pray for you?"

One of the reasons that we don't share our faith with others is because we're afraid that we're going to come across too pushy or pious, but this approach of simply asking, "May I pray for you?" is an authentic, genuine, and invitational way of helping someone to experience the presence of Jesus Christ in their life.

To take this a step further, after we ask someone that question, offer to actually pray a ten second prayer right there on the spot with the person. Why only ten seconds? A longer prayer might embarrass someone and a ten second prayer is a great reminder to stick to the main reason for the prayer.

Here's an example of a ten second prayer - "Lord, I pray for my friend Tom, whose wife will be having surgery next Monday. Help them to know that you are with them. Offer them your peace and assurance. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who loves us and promises to be with us always. Amen."

A word of warning - it is so tempting to ramble on once you start praying, but remember to keep it short and concise. Obviously, there are times when a longer prayer is appropriate, but the ten second prayer offers many advantages.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lectionaries - Structure & Spontaneity

The church universal often speaks of two lectionaries that are an important part of the life of a Christian and the church. These two lectionaries are meant to complement each other. The Sunday lectionary is a three year cycle of readings that always includes passages from the Old Testament, a Psalm, the New Testament (typically an Epistle), and the Gospel.

But there's also a daily lectionary which is a two year cycle of readings of Old and New Testament passages.

At Lancaster First UMC, we use a combination of Sunday lectionary readings for some Sundays and for other Sundays, we use other texts that relate to our sermon series themes. Sometimes, the lectionary is used even for our sermon series if it fits the theme we are using.

This Sunday, for the "Puzzling Parables" sermon series, our parable is "The Laborers in the Vineyard" from Matthew 20:1-16 which is not one of the appointed lectionary texts for this Sunday, but does appear in today's daily office lectionary readings. It's interesting how things come together.

When we were preaching on the "Crosses of Jesus" sermon series this past Lent, Sam noticed that the appointed lectionary Gospel lesson for the Sunday he was to preach on the Jerusalem Cross was the the scripture in which Jesus spoke about his love for Jerusalem. This kind of spontaneous connection happens more often than one might think.

This all reminds me of the importance of both structure and spontaneity in our faith journey. We need both to help us grow as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Christians & Facial Expressions

Someone noticed recently that I put smiley faces in the margins of my sermon notes to help me remember to smile at the appropriate times as I preach. I picked up this tip years ago from a veteran pastor who convinced me that it's easier to frown than it is to smile and if we're preaching about the joy of our faith in Jesus Christ, our facial expressions should match what we are saying.

This reminds me of a tongue in cheek quote which I came across this morning by the great 19th century English preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon who once said to a class of aspiring young preachers, "When you speak of heaven, you should smile. But when you speak of hell, feel free to use your normal face."

We've all heard that our body language and facial expressions convey more to the people around us than our spoken words. Hopefully, when we talk to others about our faith in Christ, even our normal facial expression will radiate with joy and assurance.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Northern Ireland & Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell from Northern Ireland became the unexpected winner of golf's US Open held at Pebble Beach this weekend. He beat out golf's heavy weights of Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and Ernie Els.

What a fitting tribute that a Northern Ireland golfer should win the Open this weekend since the British Prime Minister offered an official apology last week for the brutality of British troops in the killing of thirteen Northern Ireland civil rights demonstrators on January 30, 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland.

Deep wounds caused by the violent events of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" back in 1972 are finally receiving much needed healing. May peace prevail throughout our troubled world.
And for the record, Graeme and I aren't related. But congratulations to him, anyway!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - June 27

June 27 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, June 30 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Puzzling Parables - The Laborers in the Vineyard"

Features - 5th Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - Deuteronomy 24:14-15 and Matthew 20:1-16

Theme - We continue our sermon series on the puzzling parables of Jesus. Some parables may leave us scratching our heads wondering what to make of what Jesus is trying to tell us. For this third and concluding Sunday of the series we focus on the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. This is a parable of God’s irrational and extravagant grace and puts to the test our sense of fairness and justice.

A Tribute to Rev. Sam Halverson & Family

After fourteen years of ministry at Lancaster First UMC, Rev. Sam Halverson's final sermon before leaving for his new appointment in Georgia is tomorrow, June 20th. I've only known Sam for a little over a year, but have come to appreciate his ministry with our youth as well as other ministries within our church and community. Sam has also been a great help in my transition to FUMC last summer. This poem is for you, Sam.

The Day Sam Halverson Caught Me As I Was Fainting
By Robert Vincent McDowell
June 17, 2010

My last image. My last image before I fainted before my sermon in front of mothers and confirmands was that beautiful face we have all come to love. You know, that face radiating the compassion of Christ. Radiating the joy of the one from above.

He caught me. He caught me as my face turned from yellow to green, not doubting, not trembling, he gently helped me to the floor. Doctors and nurses, they all wanted to help. But Sam pushed them aside and shouted, “I’m the mayor; let’s get him to the door.”

Sam the mayor. Sam the mayor because he plays some game on his blackberry curve, making him mayor of Krogers, Starbucks, and shop after shop. “I’m now the mayor of such and such,” I would often hear him say. Speaking on behalf of all Samville, Ohio, there’s no one else. He’s at the top.

Jelly maker extraordinaire. Jelly maker extraordinaire who is known for those little jars of sugar and home made grapes all mixed together that taste oh so good on a piece of toast. He slipped that little glass jar of heaven into my church box on Christmas Eve. No fanfare. No bragging. It was better than Welch’s, and he didn’t even boast.

Mission trip leader. Mission trip leader to lands afar and sometimes staying right here. Think “Sam I Am,” nothing to do with his name, I’m told. But now’s the time to think beyond. To Hickory Flat and Georgia he shall go. Strumming his guitar, drinking espresso, shaving his head, eating his chocolates, preaching Jesus, tending his new fold.

He caught me as I was fainting. He caught me as I was fainting in front of mothers and confirmands. And I’m sure he’s caught you a time or two. He’s caught youth who sought counsel and struggled with doubts. He’s caught many of us as he delivered the Word. He’s caught many a couple before they said, “I do.”

Sam, before you leave us after these fourteen years, know of our love and prayers as you head to the south. And this last little message is for Kathy, Jesse, Megan, and Max too. Always remember, if you should feel faintish, to turn to the One, your Savior and Lord. He will always catch you. He will always catch you. He will always catch you. He loves you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

May 30th Sermon - "The Language of Faith"

Don't Throw the Baby (Teenager) Out with the Bath Water

A recent sociological study suggests that there is a significant relationship between practicing Christian parents (parents who have a regular prayer/scripture/faith conversations routine at home, attend worship services, volunteer, etc) and the faith development of their teenage sons/daughters.

The study suggests that one of the reasons why parents and the church in general do not capitalize on this correlation is because of a worldview that says our faith should be a private matter. And yet, in other realms of life such as sports, music, competitions, choosing a college, etc. (as if faith can be separate from life!) parents tend to take a more active role in influencing their teenagers. As a society, we have bought into a mindset that encourages individuals to approach faith in a private way. How many times have you heard someone say, "That's between you and God."?

One of the sacrifices of buying into this privatised approach to faith is that it encourages a very generic understanding of the Christian faith since teenagers are often cut off from the faith of their parents as well as the church's ministry and teaching on the particularities of the Christian faith. My sense is that young people get bored with an approach to faith that waters everything down.

The good news of this recent study is that parents can continue to have a significant role in the faith development of their children, especially during those critical teen years. In other words, it's wise to not throw the baby, I mean our teens, out with the bath water.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jesus Statue & Christian Symbols

What do you do when your Jesus statue gets hit by lightning and burns to the ground? That's the situation facing Solid Rock church in Monroe, Ohio, located along I 75. Many of us have seen this massive 62 feet tall figure with arms outstretched to the sky. It's one of the landmarks of southwest Ohio and a number of people see it everyday during their drive between Dayton and Cincinnati.

While I was living in the Dayton area, a number of electronic images of the statue were forwarded in e-mails putting the statue in a less than favorable light. The outstretched arms of the Jesus statue has led some to superimpose a foam "we're #1" sign on the one hand of Jesus with a can of beer clutched in the palm of the other hand. Inappropriate? Yes. But that's the risk of symbols. Things happen, like lightening, and people can twist things, like the foam #1 sign.

Symbols are an important part of our faith. They point us to a greater reality. A cross on an altar. A picture of Jesus on a living room wall. A six story statue of the Son of God emerging from a pond. A bouquet of flowers on an alter reminding us of a loved one. My mom still has an electric candle in the window of her house reminding her of dad who passed away several years ago.

But sometimes symbols can only take us so far. Sometimes, God shows up directly and because we are so caught up in the symbol, we can easily miss the real presence of Christ.

During the life and ministry of Jesus in 1st century Palestine, the Jewish people had a powerful symbol - the Temple. They believed that the Temple was a place where heaven and earth overlapped. One of the reasons that Jesus was sentenced to death to die on a cross was because he had pointed out on several occasions that the Temple would one day be destroyed. Jesus was showing that he was the true Temple, the place where heaven and earth meet.

People were so accustomed to the symbol of the Temple, that many didn't recognize the presence of God right in front of them.

Symbols. The pros and the cons.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - June 20

June 20 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, June 23 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Puzzling Parables - The Cost of Discipleship"

Features - 4th Sunday After Pentecost & Sam Halverson Farewell Sunday

Scripture - Luke 14:25-33

Thoughts on Election of West Ohio Conference Treasurer

This past Monday, the West Ohio Conference, consisting of almost 2,000 clergy and lay delegates, representing approximately 1,100 United Methodist churches, voted 948 to 920 to elect Mr. Bill Brownson as our new conference treasurer, replacing Rev. Stan Sutton, who is retiring. The Toledo Blade has a well written article about the vote.

The close vote had nothing at all to do with Mr. Brownson's financial qualifications for the positions. The reason for the close vote was due to his admission that he is in a twenty plus year committed partnership with a gay man. If the nominee would have been clergy, this would have been a clear violation of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. There is no specific language about the hiring of laity.

Obviously, there are a number of people who have strong feelings on either side of this issue. For example, before the vote, one lay delegate went to the microphone and offered inappropriate sarcastic comments against the nominee. A clergy member sitting near me yelled, "shut-up" during the committee's presentation and recommendation for our conference to vote in favor of Mr. Brownson.

The positive in all of this was that we suspended the rules to do away with the open microphone approach and instead allow prepared speeches which were delivered by very seasoned and mature lay and clergy members of our conference who showed respect for both sides of the debate. These speeches, void of inflammatory rhetoric and yet passionate about their respective position on the issue, helped our conference delegates to make an informed vote on whether or not we should elect Mr. Brownson.

While I uphold our Book of Discipline's stance that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, I also find it irresponsible to deny someone of a position of which they are thoroughly qualified by basing that decision solely on that person's same sex partnership, not to mention that our own church polity is silent on the issue as it pertains to the hiring of laity for church related positions. My hunch is that the 2nd best candidate would have to readily admit that he or she also struggles with sins but since we are living in 2010, many would say that's OK, since sexual orientation is the current hot issue and the one that we are directing most of our focus.

The real test in moving forward is in how we receive Mr. Brownson as our new conference treasurer. Will we extend God's compassion and grace to him as he begins his new position? Will we pray for him and ask God to give him strength and guidance as he seeks to address the financial challenges facing our conference?

The denomination that I know and love, as diverse as we are, leads me to believe that we will.

May it be so.

Friday, June 11, 2010

West Ohio Conference & Prayers for Pastors' Family

Our West Ohio Conference which met at Lakeside, Ohio this week offered prayers for one of our pastors who was killed in the recent tornado storm in northwest Ohio. It was a moving and emotional experience when our Bishop led 3,000 people in prayer for the Hammitt family and the congregation of North Dover UMC.

Rev. Kathy Hammitt (North Dover UMC in Wauseon) died Saturday evening when her car was hit by a tornado on Rt. 795 in Lake Township. She was returning home after visiting her husband in Bay Park Hospital. Her two daughters were following her in another car and witnessed the tragedy, but were unhurt. Kathy is survived by her husband, Norm, and 3 children.

May God's sustaining presence bring comfort and peace that passes all understanding to all who knew and loved Kathy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

More West Ohio Annual Conference Highlights (June 6 to 10)

Bishop Raul Garcia de Ochoa (Oriental of the Methodist Church of Mexico)
Macedonian Call and Macedonian Response
Act 16:6-10 - Calling for Paul to go to Macedonia. A cry for help. We need you! Ministry is a calling. Sometimes the Holy Spirit has other plans. Ministry is not our way! We will struggle. Christian life is not about my way.
Paul appeals to generosity. Macedonians go beyond their ability. "Lord, do you really want me to go to Cancun?"

What does it mean to give out of out poverty?
Even God became poor in order to give. Are we willing to offer to God a Macedonian response? We are not poorer than the Macedonians.

Board of Ordination
Ordinations this Year
1 Deacon
20 Elders

Clergy Retirements - 32

The Strength of United Methodism - We are a Connectional Church

One of the highlights of Annual Conference is the renewing of collegial and congregational relationships within our West Ohio connection. To help renew these relationships, I am part of a dinner out during conference week.

This year, we went out to another great walleye and perch restaurant which included pastors and church members representing six churches and three districts. Above is a picture of our group this year. I'm usually not in these pictures since I take them, but they remind me of one of the great things about being United Methodist - we are a connectional church!

Some of these folks met each other for the first time but you would have never known. What unites church members and pastors is the saving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Plus, fresh perch puts everyone in a good mood!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

West Ohio Annual Conference Early Highlights (June 6 to 8)

The West Ohio Annual Conference UMC is in typical form with great preaching and inspiring worship here at Lakeside, Ohio. Here are some of my notes from the first two days. We have another worship service in about twenty minutes.

Monday - Preacher, Jorge Acevedo, UM Pastor in Florida
1. Works of piety/mercy together
- They have a 3rd Saturday (like our church's 2nd Saturday ministry outreach.)
Evangelism - Can I pray for you?
Oil changes for single mothers
2. System of interconnected groups
Society, class, bands, penitent
Purpose - Healing & sanctification
Everyone has an "it." Hang-ups
Friday night dinner/small groups/recovery
3. Creating places for people in the margins. Preach the gospel to the poor. Aim at kingdom, you get diversity.
John Wesley's building for ministry: The Foundry - School for children.

Bishop Ough's Address (Monday)
Love in Action
4 Areas of Action
The Final Exam - Matt. 25
Wesley - Correlation between ministry to poor and our spiritual growth.
St. Augustine - "We are bread on the table."
Examples - Vietnam, Church for All People, Grace Children's Hospital
$1,521,000 from West Ohio to Haiti relief (includes health kits)

Rev. Janet Wolf (Tuesday Preacher)
"Thy Kingdom Come!"
How do we let go of our possessions?
We need to remain on journey with Jesus.
Jesus and disciples hang out with the left out.
We don't listen to the radicality of discipleship.

Tuesday Workshop - Building Community within the Church - Circles Initiative

Bridges Out of Poverty Curriculum
Need to sit and eat with people, not just serve them. Poverty is the extent to which an individual is able to use resources.

Math of Poverty
Family of 4 - Less than $40,000

Gap in education. Difficult to function in society.

Bad mistakes lead to endless cycle of poverty. People in poverty don't have a lot of social networking to help them.

Mental Models - We don't realize our assumptions about people in poverty.
1. Relationships - Leading cause of violence is disrespect. The poor invest in TVs since families stay indoors at night because of violent neighborhood. Relationships are transformational!
2. To get out of poverty, you have to temporarily give up some relationships.

For middle class, it's about achievement. We need to ask people what they need rather than assume we know what they need. This is why relationships are important.

We need to be aware of our Middle Class biases. Out biases can lead to judgment.

Driving Forces
1. Poverty - survival, relationships, entertainment
2. Middle Class - Work, achievement
3. Wealth -
Food - It's about quantity. You don't know when you're going to eat again.
Education - Distracted because mind is on hunger issues. Also, don't feel like they have a lot of options.
Destiny - Focus more on fate
Language - Children fall behind other children in language skills.

Tool - If you choose, then you have chosen. We need to help people know they can make choices.
"Human relationship is a sledgehammer that obliterates every societal difference." - Robert Sapolsky

We can end poverty because we were able to end slavery and give women the right to vote. We need to stop the societal and legal barriers.

Circles Campaign -
We need the church to build relationships and provide meaning/reason. We need to build intentional inclusive communities. Started in 2006.

Each circle has a low income family and 2 people of wealth.

Circles increased income, decreased subsidies.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - June 13

June 13 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, June 16 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Puzzling Parables - The Unjust Steward"

Features - 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - II Samuel 12:1-15 & Luke 16:1-13

Theme - Today, we begin a new sermon series on the puzzling parables of Jesus. Some parables may leave us scratching our heads wondering what to make of what Jesus is trying to tell us. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a look at some of the more puzzling parables of Jesus. For this first Sunday of the series, we focus on a parable that many people consider the most puzzling of all of Jesus’ parables, the parable of the Unjust Steward. This is a parable that calls us to use our creativity in communicating the good news of Jesus Christ to the people around us.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What Forgiveness Looks Like (especially when men are involved)

Do you want to know what forgiveness looks like? Watch this video from the Tigers and Indians game this past Wednesday night. Playing in Detroit, Tigers 28 year old pitcher Armando Galarrago, who had been called up from their Triple A team, the Toledo Mudhens, was just one out away from a perfect game (retiring every single batter,) something that no Tigers pitcher had ever done and a rarity in Major League Baseball.

Covering first base, the Tigers pitcher made what appeared to be the final out of a perfect game, when umpire, Jim Joyce shocked everyone by indicating that the batter was safe at the play at first base. Instant replay clearly indicates that the runner was out. After reviewing the replay, the umpire admitted that he blew the call.

The next day (Thursday) when the Tigers and Indians played again, Joyce was at homeplate to meet with the managers for their ceremonial exchange of lineup cards. Tigers manager, Jimmy Leyland did a very classy thing by sending out his pitcher, Armando Galarrago to homeplate in his place. This symbolic action of forgiveness led to a tearful exchange between Galarrago and Joyce. This is what forgiveness looks like, (an exchange of shoulder taps) especially when men are involved. And on top of this, even the Tigers fans expressed forgiveness by cheering on Joyce.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thoughts on Ecclesiastes & Theodicy

This morning's Old Testament reading from "The Daily Office," which I use for my daily devotions is from Ecclesiastes, a book known for it's "what's the use" struggle in finding meaning in a world that is often unfair.

Ecclesiastes raises the question of theodicy, "why does a good and loving God allow bad things to happen?" It's a question that the Bible doesn't give a clear cut answer but it does wrestle with again and again. The Bible holds in tension two strains of theology. The first strain being the Deuteronomy theological perspective that claims if you do what God tells you to do, you will be blessed. This strain is often overemphasized by the prosperity gospel proponents who claim that if you are faithful to God, you will receive blessings.

The second strain which is strongly evident in the Book of Ecclesiastes counters the faithfulness/blessings approach of Deuteronomy by reminding us that life isn't always that simple. Sometimes, bad things happen to people who have been faithful to God. This strain often gets overemphasized by people who would say that God is irrelevant since the world is filled with so much unfairness.

The passage from Ecclesiastes below which is my Old Testament reading for today certainly emphasizes the "what's the use?" approach, but notice that there's a little of the Deuteronomy strain of thought mixed into these verses ever so slightly. Ecclesiastes 3:17 says, "I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work."

That's a key verse here because even though we can easily slip into despair because of all of the injustice we see in our world, the cynical writer of Ecclesiastes still acknowledges that there will come a time in the future when God will set everything right and God's righteousness will prevail. This is the eschatological biblical hope that reminds us that even though the world is broken by sin, unfairness, and death, one day God will renew the face of the earth.

This scripture is a good example of how the Bible acknowledges our unanswered questions about why bad things happen, and while it doesn't give us easy answers to our questions, it does hold up the hope we have that God is sovereign and will one day make all things new.

Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:3

3:16 Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. 17I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work. 18I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. 19For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? 22So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?

4:1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. 2And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; 3but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.