I find myself defending my liberal stance among conservatives in North America, and I also find myself defending my conservative stance with liberals. The truth is that I try hard not to be conservative or liberal – firstly I try to be biblical and truthful. I find that this does not put me squarely on either side of the political fence. Iain Provan puts it well when he writes in his commentary on Ecclesiastes 4:1-16:
there is a truly depressing tendency, especially when matters like these [Matters of Ecclesiastes 4] are discussed among Christians in North America, to allow easy dichotomies to arise between allegedly leftist and allegedly rightist points of view on such issues as economic responsibility. this is only slightly less depressing than a more general tendency for Christians to identify themselves as conservatives or liberals, as if the label Christian were a secondary religious tag hung around the neck of what is essentially a political animal. christians should have no other primary commitments than to love God and their neighbours and to look after God’s world.
That task of love is far more complex than can ever be captured in a political ideology. the first question to be asked is not whether an idea is conservative or liberal (so what?) but whether it is orthadox and biblical. the Bible constantly strikes balances in order to catch the whole truth; political ideologies characteristically simplify and thus distort. Thus, for example, Qoholet both urges the virtue of hard work (in common with other parts of the Bible, e.g. Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11) and yet draws our attention to the misery of the world and advocates community. Ideologues on the right have been known to use the first kind of text to justify inactivity in respect of the poor and oppressed, and ideologues on the left have been known to use the second kind of text to urge social reform that does not take individual sinfulness sufficiently seriously. the Bible presses a more complex world upon us and urges a more sensitive response. truly loving one’s neighbour (rather than simply being kind and polite) is always a challenge, yet it is the challenge set before us as we pursue life of contentment-in-community, in which we do not “eat, drink, and enjoy” selfishly, but openheartedly.
Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
2 And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
3 But better than both
is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun.
4And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
5 Fools fold their hands
and ruin themselves.
6 Better one handful with tranquillity
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.
7Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:
8 There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Advancement Is Meaningless
13 Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. 14 The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. 15 I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. 16 There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
- How is oppression linked with gain?
- How is envy associated with gain?
- How does the passage cover both conservative and liberal sides of the political spectrum?
- How could Christians encourage the populace to work hard and also combat corruption in large corporations?
- Which companies and government agencies oppress people? How have companies like Gap and Nike changed their ways?
Watch this video with oppression in mind. How do you react?