I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees, Ecclesiastes 2:5-6.
The Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem writes of the futility of living life “under the sun,” that is without God as central to his life, living apart from the fear of God (Ecclesiastes 12:13). In chapter two he puts forth a litany of “dead end streets” in this regard-drunkenness, work, building projects, vineyards, gardens, parks, trees, ponds, irrigation systems, men and women to do his work for him, gold and silver, sex, and worldly wisdom. His conclusion is that all of this is futility, vanity, striving after wind. We often hear pastors and theologians today exhort us to engage the culture, to bring to bear our Reformed Theology on all areas of life. So we find Christians striving to become artists, musicians, novelists, screen writers, producers, politicians, research scientists, entrepreneurs, and many more. The classic on the issue is Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper. There Kuyper brilliantly shows how Calvinism ought to impact our politics, art, business, and every area of life. Of course this is all fine and good as long as we remember one important and vital point-all of these efforts at “redeeming the culture”, of making the world a better place to live, of fulfilling the cultural mandate to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28) are mere beautiful poison. One of Satan’s ploys is to divert us from the best by focusing on the good and beautiful.
There is a right way and a wrong way to build gardens, parks, ponds, and vineyards. If these, or any of our endeavors for that matter, are done “under the sun” then the results are merely temporal. They are beautiful poison. James tells us that the wisdom from below is earthly, natural, and demonic (James 3:15). They may give momentary joy but, in the end, do not lead to life eternal. What good is temporal beauty if one ends up in hell after his brief enjoyment of gardens, parks, ponds, and vineyards? According to the Preacher, living under the sun is to live without the fear of God, to live in disobedience to His commandments. The last commandment Jesus gave us is to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Everything Jesus and the apostles taught us have to do with winning people to Christ and seeing them grow in grace, to build His church so that we may replicate the same thing over and over again. God’s overarching purpose is the salvation of sinners for the praise and glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:3-14). Our main job, therefore, is to win the nations to Christ. In making art, poetry, music, or any other “good and beautiful” thing without the driving force of discipling the nations is beautiful poison. What does that mean? Okay, an artist who is a Christian paints a magnificent scene of the north shore of Oahu that captures the nuances of the sun setting on the Pacific Ocean at Sunset Beach. Beautiful! But if the Christian artist does nothing in his life to draw people to the Savior, perhaps using his artistic gifts as a platform for ministry, then from an eternal perspective, what good is it? If a research scientist finds a final cure for cancer and saves millions of lives but his patients are not reconciled to God through Christ in eternal salvation, then all he is doing is healing them to go back to their sin. Their longer lives ultimately result in even greater judgment because their sins mounted up even more since they lived longer in their sinful rebellion. If an entrepreneur makes millions of dollars, employing thousands of people, contributing to the local economy by paying his taxes, but does nothing to win people to Christ or invest his money for world evangelization, then his work is short lived. It is vanity, futility, striving after wind. So people are inspired by the scene of Sunset Beach, healed from deadly cancer, employed by the entrepreneur; but without Christ, at the end of it all, they are lost. They then will drink the poison of judgment. They enjoyed the finer things of life here but lost the greatest and best thing-reconciliation to God through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary.
I am not saying, of course, that Christians should not enter the arts, medicine, or business; but I am saying we must do so “under heaven.” This is the right conclusion reported by the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 1:13, 3:1). To live under heaven is to live with eternity in full view, to always keep in mind that we one day will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give account of our deeds done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10). The great need of mankind is not culture. The great aim of Christians is not to “redeem the culture.” It is unredeemable. There is disease, death, destruction, and devilish despair at every turn. These will remain until Christ’s return and the new heaven and new earth. The great aim of Christians is to make disciples of all nations, to publish the glad tidings of great joy, to proclaim release to the captives, to tell all people everywhere that they must repent because God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through One whom He has appointed, having furnished proof by raising Him from the dead.
Ask yourself these questions-why are you in this world? Why do you work? Why do you marry and rear children? Why do you engage in leisure activities? Why art? Why music? Is there an independent reason for any of these things? Did God create the world for our selfish, good pleasure? There is no independent reason for anything in the world. There is no separate reason for art, music, theatre, business, or anything else. Yes, we do them for the glory of God but He gets great glory from the elect streaming into Zion in eternal salvation (Jeremiah 3:17, 4:16, Isaiah 2:2, Micah 2:2, Zechariah 2:11). Art, music, business, medicine and everything else in the world are all means by which we are to disciple the nations. All we do, all we have ultimately is for the glory of God in the salvation of sinners. In light of the great and glorious work of salvation (Romans 1-11), Paul then tells us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable or sensible way to worship Him (Romans 12:1-2). He goes on from there and tells us to deploy the spiritual gifts God has given us, whether prophesying, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, or showing mercy as a product of our devotion to Him and His grace. You will notice these gifts are all deployed in the work of making disciples.
So, by all means, if you are a gifted musician, artist, writer, research scientist, or entrepreneur then continue to use your God-given abilities. Just remember-if you use them “under the sun” the result, at best, is beautiful poison. As Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). ” . . . not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions . . . You fool, this very night your soul is required of you,” (Luke 12:15,20).
1. This term “under the sun” is used twenty-nine times in Ecclesiastes and means living without God, living as though He does not exist, that we are not responsible to Him. <www.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com>