The problem of caring


 

Caring can be depressing.  

That seems odd.  Maybe even wrong.  But it’s true.

Ecc 1:1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
Ecc 1:2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

Even caring.

 

It doesn’t matter whether we even know the people we care about.  If we really care about them – it’s still depressing when they don’t care.  And not because we can’t do anything about their lack of caring – because we can’t, and we know that.  It’s their lack of caring about themselves that is the problem.

But that’s exactly what we’re called to do as Christians –

Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

But even as we read this – we know that most of the time – as Qoheleth, the teacher, says – it’s meaningless.  We cannot convince anyone to care about themselves.  But we’re asked to love them – and care about them – even though they don’t (care about themselves).

By “care about themselves” – just to be sure, I’m talking about their future – the forever future.  Not whether they’re loving themselves and having fun in the current moment, without a care as to what comes even in the next 5 minutes, let alone for eternity.

Think about the Old Testament people of God.  

Maybe Moses.  Look at all the grief he got from the Israelites, who he was trying to rescue from slavery under Pharaoh.  God called Moses to this task.  Moses was more than a little grudging about it at first – but eventually, he really truly cared.

Ex 32:9 “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
Ex 32:11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “O LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ ” 14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Moses could have been the “new” Abraham.  It wouldn’t really have changed the covenant – since Moses was a descendant of Abraham.  But Moses really loved and cared about the people.  At this point, there were likely about 2 million of them.  He certainly didn’t know all of them.  But he cared.

For those who may choose to dispute that Moses cared, we read this just a few verses later –

Ex 32:31 So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

That’s caring.  

Remember what Jesus said –

Jn 15:12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Moses was willing to do what Jesus actually did – die for His people.

Like I said – that’s caring.

But look what happened.

Nu 14:26 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: 27 “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. 28 So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: 29 In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. 32 But you—your bodies will fall in this desert. 33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ 35 I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this desert; here they will die.”
Nu 14:36 So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it— 37 these men responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the LORD. 38 Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.
Nu 14:39 When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. 40 Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country. “We have sinned ,” they said. “We will go up to the place the LORD promised.”
Nu 14:41 But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the LORD’S command? This will not succeed! 42 Do not go up, because the LORD is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, 43 for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the LORD, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.”
Nu 14:44 Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the LORD’S covenant moved from the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.

Too little.  Too late.  Meaningless.

All that caring for the people.  Meaningless.

And yet – 

Heb 3:1 Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.

Maybe not totally meaningless?

Moses – the one who cared – certainly it was not meaningless for him.

And if you cared enough to read the section from Numbers, and paid attention, you may remember –

30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

Three men out of a couple million.  Not good odds.  Apparently, most of us don’t care.  

Meaningless.  Almost.  

Not meaningless.  Not for those who care.

 

And we can pick pretty much any Old Testament figure.  Look at what Jesus said –

Mt 23:29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
Mt 23:33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

This doesn’t sound good.  Moses wasn’t the only one who got treated like this.

But still – after all that –

Mt 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’’”

God still cares.

 

How does He do it?
How can He deal with us rejecting Him?
And it’s not like only some of us do it.  Every one of us has rejected Him – is some measure is doing it even now – and will continue to do so.
But He doesn’t consider everything He has done for us to be meaningless.
How does He do it?

 

And how are we supposed to do it?

And there lies the problem for people who do actually care – 
in our own weak versions of caring.

 

I think this is part of it –

Mt 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10 take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.
Mt 10:11 “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
Mt 10:17 “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Mt 10:21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

It kind of seems like Jesus is saying – care, but don’t care too much.  Emphasis is mine.  At some point, we are to leave people – not to continue to waste time on them – not to get mad at them.  Because if we stayed, we would most certainly do both of these things.  And eventually – we may get to a point where we get in trouble for what we are trying to do – for trying to care.  But then, if / when that happens – Jesus says not to worry – God will take care of things for us.  Maybe not now – not in this life – but certainly – as with Moses, in the next.

And – by the way – for the ones who don’t care about themselves – God will take care of them too.  Our goal is to try to reach people – and if we don’t succeed – walk away.  Find someone who does care about themselves.  Otherwise, we end up being useful to no one – because we stop caring about anyone.  Because we are too focused on the ones who don’t care, instead of the ones who do.  And then we don’t care.

It’s like – don’t become meaningless.

 

There is one other important point to make in terms of not becoming meaningless.  By ourselves – we’d be utter failures – we are all meaningless – as Qoheleth says.  But, consider this –

Jn 16:5 “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
Jn 16:12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
Jn 16:16 “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

We are left with the Holy Spirit – the mind of Christ – as Paul calls the Holy Spirit.  He is dwelling in us from the time we are baptized.  But we have to allow Him to act within us.  If we don’t – we are meaningless.  If we do – then we can have meaning.

If we listen to Him – we can care – and we can know when to move on.  Paul did that –

Paul was preaching to some Greeks –

Ac 17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

This could have been a great opportunity.  The logic that Paul had for this “unknown god” was amazing.  At least I really like it.  Paul cared – so he tried to talk to them.  But –

Ac 17:32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council.

What Paul knew – through the Holy Spirit – is that the Greeks wanted to hear more – not because they cared, but because they just liked to talk and debate.  The next verse says that only a few men became followers.

Paul cared, but left when it was time.

Was it meaningless?  Not entirely.  A few men were saved.  But then it was time to go.  Not meaningless.

 

So maybe that begs the question, regarding what The Teacher said –

is everything really meaningless?

The final chapter of Ecclesiastes –

Ecc 12:1 Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
Ecc 12:2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
Ecc 12:3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
Ecc 12:4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when men rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
Ecc 12:5 when men are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags himself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then man goes to his eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.

Ecc 12:6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
or the wheel broken at the well,
Ecc 12:7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Ecc 12:8 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Everything is meaningless!”

The Conclusion of the Matter

Ecc 12:9 Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.
Ecc 12:11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd. 12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
Ecc 12:13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecc 12:14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Different people will read various things into this final chapter.

Some will find if amazing – important.  
Others will find it meaningless.

I think our point of view depends on whether or not we care.  And what we care about.  And who we care about.

Yes.  Caring can be depressing.

Sometimes we need to remember the Why part of caring.  That we care because He first cared for us.

Then – maybe it’s not so depressing.

If you’re in this state right now –
my prayer for both you and myself is –
Lord – please use Your Holy Spirit to, as You said He would, remind us of the things you taught us,
and to, as You said He would, teach us the deeper meanings of what you taught us.
It’s hard to care sometimes.  Please help us.
Amen.

 

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