Last night, I had the great privilege of delivering the baccalaureate speech to the 2017 graduating class at Veritas Academy in Savannah, GA. While meditating, in recent days, on the multitude of truths that God has given us in the book of Ecclesiastes--especially as it pertains to the unexpected hardships and seeming injustices that we will all experience in life--I've come to realize that Ecclesiastes would, in itself, make a perfect baccalaureate speech. Of particular importance is the following maxim of Qoheleth:
"I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time" (Eccl. 9:11).
In his sermon on Ecclesiastes 9:11 (which is included in his excellent commentary on the book), Phil Ryken sums up the essence of the passage when he says:
"The time will come when events overtake us. Before we know it we get trapped in a bad situation at work, or afflicted with a disease or caught up perhaps in a financial tsunami. And, at the very end of our times, of course the time will come for us to die and then go to judgment--that's a time that God knows and we do not. And, if time does not overtake us "chance" certainly will-- chance not simply in the sense of 'fate,' but chance in the sense of something that happens, and 'occurrence.' He is not talking about something good that happens to you, but something bad. And so it is in a fallen world. Many unhappy events, Natural disaster, environmental catastrophes, military conflicts in various parts of the world, economic downturns--its all very unpredictable-- the misfortunes of life are inevitable and inescapable. And here in his mercy God tells us to expect the unexpected.So when hardship comes--even when it comes very suddenly--we should not be surprised; we should realize that this is the kind of thing that happens in the world. Nor when life is good should we think that our own natural abilities will somehow spare us from having hard times. No matter how gifted we are, or how well prepared or how many advantages we have in life, the truth is that we too may suffer an evil day. Now the questions is, "How should we respond when that days comes?"
Of course, the answer to the question is only found in the Gospel. Christ gave up all riches, privilege and honor in order to take all of our foolishness on Himself. He promises to sustain us through the midst of the unexpected trials, disappointments and hardships of life. Then, He promises to bring us to glory where there are no more sorrows, sadness, sickness or suffering (Rev. 21:4). If we have Christ, we have an anchor for our souls during the midst of the unexpected hardships. Nevertheless, in the here and now, we must "expect the unexpected" variables of life.
You can find the audio of the baccalaureate speech here.
C.S. Lewis "The Weight of Glory" (a sermon preached at St. Mary's in Oxford, June 8, 1942)