Next, I turned to look at all the acts of oppression that make people suffer under the sun. Look at the tears of those who suffer! No one can comfort them. Their oppressors have all the power. No one can comfort those who suffer. I congratulate the dead, who have already died, rather than the living, who still have to carry on. But the person who hasn’t been born yet is better off than both of them. He hasn’t seen the evil that is done under the sun.
Friday, Second Week after Pentecost
When words fail, when comfort is no more, O God come and open our eyes to what Jesus has done for us at the cross and make all things new. Amen
Reading Ecclesiastes can be depressing. Solomon in his wisdom says it like it is. He doesn’t mince words. His truth rings uncomfortably true whether we like it or not. It cuts through the rhetoric of our times like a hot knife through butter. In Ecclesiastes 4 he writes, “No one can comfort those who suffer.” He then says that better are those who haven’t been born yet because they have not seen the evil that is done under the sun.
He’s absolutely right. Trauma, ANY type of trauma that people go through, cannot be undone. We can’t unwitness something that our eyes have witnessed. We can’t unexperience the terrors that we have experienced. We can heal from trauma’s wounds and we can develop coping skills to manage our post traumatic stress, but we are unable to turn back the clock so that we don’t experience the results of the past. In the same way societies cannot undo history that has occurred. We cannot undo our history of slavery in America. We can’t unlive the civil war. We can move forward with better ways of dealing with our past. We can remember. We can learn. We can teach our kids the lessons of the past and live better than our ancestors. And we should.
Today, in our news cycle the topic is Juneteenth. Many are wanting a national commemoration of one of the oldest holidays that marked the end of black slavery in Galveston, Texas. Two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, union forces came to Galveston and made the announcement that the war was ended and that slaves were now free. In the words of Major General Gordon Granger,
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
The results were immediate. Shock, jubilation, and change. Some stayed around to see what the employer/employee relationship would look like. Others left the plantations immediately even having nowhere to go because now they were free.
Traumatic events in history, such as slavery, cannot be unlived or unremembered. We need to remember what happened in the past and teach our children to live differently.
But this leads me to think that while Solomon was right: “No one can comfort those who suffer,” and no amount of taking a pound of flesh can ever truly comfort those who are hurting, he was also foundationally wrong in one very important sense. There is a way to be healed from the past traumas and oppression. It is through Jesus Christ.
Before you dismiss this as being some religious panacea, listen to what God’s Word promises to those who find their true freedom in Christ Jesus and when all things are made new, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
“Former things passed away” is our inheritance because of the heritage we receive from the trauma of Christ’s cross. We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” We pray this especially for those whose pain and sorrow cannot be undone except by the hand of God.
Pastor Langdon Reinke
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