The other evening my friend Hudson joined me on the front porch. We had a couple of cigars (each), Lagavulin 16, we tried a particularly awful coffee bourbon that will remain nameless, and listened to a lecture by N.D. Wilson on Chestertonain Calvinism. We conversed and laughed. It is one of the nights that I will remember for a long time. It was more than a good night, it was particularly holy. In Ecclesiastes Solomon teaches that life can be incredibly hard. But God has generously granted a salve, good friends, good food, and good drink.
Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.
Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.
Enjoy life with the wife* whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 9:7-9
We come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing, almost. Solomon narrows down for us the only things we take with us into eternity: People, and memories. People who know and love Jesus we will meet and know better in Heaven, and our memories go with us. Solomon counsels us to invest in these things. Everything else is dust, as the old preacher has said, “I have never seen a Uhaul behind a hearse.” The Egyptian kings tried to take it with them and failed, eventually we went in took their stuff, and sold it museums.
The things that are given us are given for a reason. Throughout life God gives pleasure. Enjoyment is His idea. It’s not as if after the fall Satan was worming around in some peat tempting Adam to smoke malt over it. We do not worship a cosmic killjoy who requires unrelenting pious sternness. As Aslan said, “Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave.” However, if this enjoyment terminates on ourselves it has been pointless. Any devotee of the doctrines of Grace knows that all is for the glory of God. Drunkeness is a sin because it is an abuse of the gift of God and, adding insult to injury, uses as a tool to worship at the alter of another. God gives good gifts, and enjoyed rightly they roll up into praise, gratitude, and glory to him.
The Wisdom of Harvey
Elwood Dowd, the main character in Mary Chase’s play Harvey dispenses some Solomon-esque wisdom.
“Harvey and I sit in the bars… have a drink or two… play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they’re saying, “We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fella.” Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We’ve entered as strangers – soon we have friends.”
The phrase golden moments stands out for me. I love to warm myself on the ones I have had. I remember the summer night when my friend Lauren and I tried cigars for the first time. A friend had been to Colombia and brought me back a handful. I’ve never smoked their equal. We walked around the mud puddle masquerading as a lake in Overton park smoking. The zoo behind us was brilliantly lit up for a event and the humidity of the day had caused the lake to be covered in a thick layer of fog. Every once in a while a hole would open up in the fog and a little cyclone of fog would twist its way free and dissipate. We walked and talked theology as the crowds left the zoo and the lights dimmed. It was a golden moment. The entire evening was a gift I will never forget. Another holy night.
These memories are mental monuments to me of the goodness of God. They were from His generous hand and in one night He was lavish. I can not separate memories like this from Him and when pondering them I give praise, I am in awe.
The dour Calvinist is a stereotype, but it exists for a reason. A major hurdle we have to overcome is objections to God predestining some to hell. We can focus on the problem of evil too much. It feels satisfying to us to use Voddie Baucham’s simple defense of “If God’s so good then how come bad stuff happens? That is the wrong question… The right question is if God is so good how can he not kill me right now for what I thought before I got out of bed this morning.” But for the person struggling through this it is not emotionally satisfying. A natural response is to clamber up onto our horse of facts and logic and verses. I get the objection. But what if rather than leading with the attitude of John Adams, “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” we instead lead with joy? I would prefer to shift the focus to the fact that God also predestined the good things too. Scotch and cigars were his idea. He made the ingredients and the people who spent time perfecting them. Scotch is predestined for you. It sat for sixteen years maturing and waiting for you. And before the foundations of the earth God knew you would drink and enjoy that bottle. He was glad to do it.
Lewis, and you knew he had to weigh in (again) at some point, speaks in the Four Loves of friends being chosen for one another.
In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” – C.S. Lewis – The Four Loves
All of these things come from the hand of God. He chose and directed them. I have sometimes wondered if our lack of gratitude has helped on the Frozen Chosen view of things. When we orient ourselves to thank God specifically for the generous gifts he has lavished on us we start to look for those things. We have to train ourselves in it, gratitude does not come naturally. And our world sets us against it. The King James renders Hebrews 13:5 “…be grateful for such things as ye have…” But our natural inclination is that of John D. Rockefeller when asked how much money was enough? “Just a little bit more.”
That night on the porch the smoke curled up and was blown away by the fan. Hudson poured his terrible bourbon in my glass and darted inside for the bottle of Old Forester 1920. I paused the lecture and realized that we were living the point Wilson was making. To paraphrase, it is like your last name is Disney and you live in Disney World. We too often stand in the gates and focus on all that has gone wrong. When your last name is Disney and his kingdom is yours. Act like it. Hudson returned and as the evening wore on we delighted in the blessings that were bestowed on us. like the rings of smoke, our praise floated up in the golden moment as we gloried that we were living in Disney World. And it was given to us before the foundations of the earth.
*A wife (or husband) should be your best friend and elsewhere Solomon talks about friends so I think I am on pretty firm ground pulling them out of this passage.