Choosing to do ‘nothing new’

“All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us.

There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be an remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.”

(Ecclesiastex 1:8-11, KJV)

One of the key messages in Ecclesiastes is its reminder to readers that “everything is meaningless”. Throughout history, in all of man’s daily labour and perennial matters faced in life, “there is nothing new under the sun”. What are these things? They are the lot of man-birth and old age, sickness and death, as well as eating, drinking and marrying.

The cycle of birth and death is inevitable, but we have a choice in matters of eating, drinking and marrying. How we choose will determine whether the outcome will bring us joy or cause distress. Isn’t the history of mankind – whether it is of good or bad, Christians or non-Christians – a documentation of choices made by man? Reading Ecclesiastes for the first time may give a pessimistic impression, but I feel that its message presents us with many positive attitudes towards life and points to many opportunities for doing good works.

While the life cycle is inevitable, its process and the quality of life can be enhanced If, with wisdom from the Lord, we develop healthy eating habits and exercise regularly Coupled with good medical care, we may be able to slow the ageing process, keep illnesses at bay as much as possible, and live longer. However, when faced with the inevitable, let us accept the fact that in God’s wisdom for creation, all creatures are under the inviolable law of supersession of the old by the new We do not have to resist or struggle against it.

As for eating, drinking, and marrying, these are very much matters of individual choice and we may spend a good part of our lives on them. Eating and drinking are lifestyle issues and we pay a price for our lifestyle choices. We can opt to live simply and still find life comfortable. On the other hand, there are those who experience discontent for failing to achieve their goals despite their lifelong toil, and yet others who are unscrupulous in fulfilling their own desires in life.

The issue of marrying is about human relationships. Any marriage, be it our own or that of the older generation, creates a new and complex network of relationships involving immediate family members, relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbours and others. Such relationships are not easy to manage well all the time. Those who are warm and amicable will find many new companions for their life journey; the abrasive ones will have more enemies and sewer friends, while the less sociable may feel even lonelier.

The phrase “There is nothing new under the sun” in Ecclesiastes sums up what has been presented. To me, the life cycle of birth and old age, sickness and death means a need for loving care and comfort, and compassion. Eating, drinking, and marrying will require us to be accommodating, forgiving, warm and encouraging. We can become a blessing to others.

This is not to say that we will always be strong and never in want. What it means is that while we are still able, let us keep on doing good works begun in the past, so that the many deeds which moved hearts throughout the ages will continue to be “nothing new under the sun” today. The good works that you and I do under the sun, whether seen or unnoticed by others, enable those around us to experience today the Christ who became flesh 2,000 years ago.

The Rev Dr Chong Chin Chung was re-elected President of the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC) in 2012 for the quadrennium. He has been a Methodist pastor for 30 years and a guest lecturer at Trinity Theological College since 1996.