February 12, 2019 “There is nothing new under the sun” is a saying attributed to King Solomon. It appears in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes as one of the many complaints about the monotony of life. ‘Life is toil’ Solomon says. And all our toil doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things, amount to much. ‘Generations come and go,’ he says. ‘Time passes’ and it’s all wearisome. All of this comes in the first view verses of this old, old book.
Though the book is old, we know the experience of monotony and the despair that comes with it. I have to admit that this weariness hits me often when I survey the news day in and day out. Today’s political news seems more or less the same as yesterday’s news: A leader in South America promises to upset his wicked opponent in an upcoming election. The Prime Minister in Britain is under pressure. And in Japan, a leader is rumored to be stepping down—it’s the Emperor actually, who is abdicating. Now, that doesn’t happen every day. I know. And yet, it still strikes me as nothing new. And I haven’t even gotten to our own noisy and chaotic politics in the USA, which, here’s that word again, are wearisome to mind and soul and spirit. What goes on today doesn’t seem so much different than this time 4 years ago, or 8, or 12.
Solomon did not have to face a 24-hour news cycle of sameness as we do, yet he was depressed, at least momentarily, in his own time. We can understand why some sought to keep Solomon’s melancholy out of the Bible. But it’s important to acknowledge monotony as a feature of human life. Being truthful is a always a good first step. The next step, however, is not to let it get the best of us by allowing it dominate and depress our psyches.
Here we can call to mind the great commandments: love God and love others. Whatever the news is, the good news is that we can bless others and make a real difference by loving them. Such love will may show itself in kindness, service, attentiveness and respect. And when we become more and more aware of the needs of others – and help them – something like a mini-miracle happens. Our time is transformed. No longer does the day seem wasted, the hours unbearably long, the minutes empty--and daily living a burdensome task. No, when we hear the summons to love God and to love those who make up our lives, well, hallelujah: a new vitality comes to us. The lament that there is nothing new under the sun becomes ‘This is the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ There are other ways out of monotony’s curse, but let’s not forget this one.