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Greg Clarke says it’s OK to eat, drink and be merry

OPINION | Greg Clarke

December 2015

Is it better to be an optimist or a pessimist? Both approaches, it must be admitted, have their appeal. The optimist can brush off trouble, whistling her way through terrorist attacks, environmental disasters and relationship breakdowns, always seeing the little drops of stagnant water remaining in the grease-coated glass and happily calling it “half-full”.

Whereas the pessimist is never disappointed, always either confirmed in his view that things really are that bad; or merely justified, if things are going well, in waiting for the day when inevitably they do take a turn for the worse and he can cry, “Told you so!”

These days, I find myself oscillating between the two. I’ve been around long enough to know that the Teacher in Ecclesiastes is dead right when he says that life is “vanity and an unhappy business”. And yet, genetically I’m an incurable optimist, always able to see the upside, to the frustration of the more sane people around me.

We don’t have to spend all of our time groaning about how terrible things are.

I bring this Pooh vs. Eeyore persona to most dilemmas now. I’ve just returned from a conference about the Bible and the environment, where one of the things I learned is that the world’s oceans are being fished within an inch of disaster. They say that within a few decades commercial ocean fishing probably won’t be viable. There just won’t be enough fish. It is very distressing. How will we feed all of those poor coastal dwelling peoples, who are already at risk due to rising sea levels? Why can’t we regulate fishing effectively, to give species a chance to regrow? What is wrong with us?!

But the optimist in me says that the same Bible book which preaches that all is vanity also teaches that we should enjoy the lives God has given us, with good food and drink, family and friends, and follow our interests and passions with all our might while we still have breath to do so.

There is always disaster, turmoil, conflict, intractable problems. But there is also celebration. Bring on the seared tuna! Maybe just once a month.

We don’t have to spend all of our time groaning about how terrible things are. We are actually commanded to enjoy ourselves (if you find this hard to believe, check out Ecclesiastes, especially 9:7-10!).  But, if we don’t spend some of our time complaining about how bad things are, and trying to do something about it, we just aren’t being obedient.

Really, the problem is with me and my inability to do specifically what God says to me in Ecclesiastes that I should do: fear God, obey his commands and, well, that’s it. As Augustine said, love God and do what you please (yes, he really did). If I would just listen to the biblical balance between hope and judgment, caring deeply and deeply enjoying, striving and sabbathing, I wouldn’t be in such difficulty. So, bring on the silly season. Eat, drink, and take pleasure in your toil. It’s biblical to do so. And at Christmas, pause to reflect with Ecclesiastes on how meaningless it would all be without God, especially a God who delightfully and lovingly stoops down to enter the creation and experience what it is like with us.

Greg Clarke is CEO of Bible Society Australia.

Image credit: Paul K_flickr

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