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Power, Authority, and Its Result

Power, Authority, and Its Result
Ecclesiastes 8:1–9
“For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?” (Eccl 8:6).
We all struggle with the future and the vast uncertainty it creates in our minds. It’s rarely the present that keeps us awake at night; it’s our concerns about what will happen if the present changes for better or worse.
But unlike other places in the Bible when we’re told not to worry, the words of Ecclesiastes 8:6 are set in the context of a request to obey the king of the land. This is not because the king is offered as a solution to the problems, although he could potentially help, but because like many other things, there is nothing that can be done about him. Why worry about that which you cannot change?
This situation is equated to life and death itself: “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the way of death” (Eccl 8:8). The Preacher of Ecclesiastes then goes on to reflect the cultural reality of the time: “There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.” Again, what can you change about it? If the king is corrupt, it will destroy him, like it will destroy others—it’s only a matter of time. Wickedness has no power to deliver; only the power to destroy.
And this is most pressing for reflection: Sin is often cast as an escape from life’s pains and sometimes feelings of meaninglessness, yet it really destroys life. (If only this reasoning was present in our thinking every time we were tempted.)
The Preacher of Ecclesiastes begins to draw his thoughts to a close by telling us: People’s power over one another is “hurt”—it’s painful (Eccl 8:9). Here in a passage about the need for people to be governed (that’s likely written by one in power), we see the author admit that power will inflict pain, or more literally “evil” or “badness.”
This startling reality forms another realization: In a world that was meant to have God as its king and ruler—in a world where that power only shifted after people sinned and were no longer allowed in the presence of their creator—it makes sense that power would corrupt. But we’re told: what can we do about it? The only we can do is to be people who choose to follow the good, the good God, and work toward the overthrowing of evil and the battle against corruption. But we must, along the way, realize that worry and anxiety will only paralyze, not help.
What do you need to pray about that is a worry or anxiety of yours? In what ways can you be an agent of change in the world, without succumbing to the pains it can bring?
John D. Barry

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