Seeing the References
So, does any part of Scripture actually accord with the idea of “balance” or “a golden mean”? Curious, I decided to do some research and check before I make any assumptions (rest assured, I don’t make assumptions unless I check them). Probably the one you will see the most in such discussions revolves around Ecclesiastes 3:
3 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
2 A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. 3 A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4 A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. 5 A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. 6 A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. 7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak. 8 A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.
Yes, this does look a lot like God showing us the moderation of human existence. All things happen in their time, not in excess, and God sends us along a road which puts these things in equal measure. Our reaction to those events determines how well we can face them, and for that we need to balance. I thought that nailed the meaning of this verse for a long time.
And yet, we should know better. If you’re reading Ecclesiastes, you know the author means to display the vanity of human existence, and the meaninglessness of their toil. All things will die, and all he sees is the evil being rewarded and the good shot down. But, because God determines what happens, everything’s quite alright. Let’s look a little farther into this chapter:
9 What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils? 10 I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. 11 He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
That is, what profit can you see in a cycle God determines? You own nothing in the end; you don’t attach your U-Haul to a hearse, after all is said and done. God gives us tasks by which to occupy us on earth, whether that be ministry or merely living life as He desires, but He makes everything appropriate in its time. He sets eternity in the heart so that we won’t find out how God arranges things, and so that we must trust in Him for our help. What a strange thing. So where’s that notion of balance, again?
12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; 13 moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. 15 That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.
All you can do is do good. And it doesn’t say how much good, just to do good and rejoice in the gift of God. I suppose it’s a matter of seeing things in perspective, especially that God owns it all and you do not. Enjoy the gifts, and salvation gets thrown under this rubric just as much as anything else. Again, where do we find moderation here? The concept occurs much more explicitely in Ecclesiastes 7:
15 I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. 16 Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17 Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.
We can make a pretty convincing case for moderation and balance right here; how much more obvious could we get? But, then again, what do we mean by moderation here? Do not hold excessively knowledge, not in the way that “puffs up”, but in the way that makes the author’s life a horrible mess. See, most people think the message of Ecclesiastes is that too much knowledge makes you a bad Christian. Not necessarily! Rather, too much knowledge makes the problems of life and daily living all too obvious to yourself, every day, forever. It is not that knowledge itself is bad; it is that knowledge itself leads to futility, a lack of answers. Only God knows the answers, and our struggle to understand those answers apart from God makes things difficulty for the smarty pants.
Unlike the author of Ecclesiastes, though, the New Testament does not directly advocate for it. Paul does not seem to advocate for it, nor could we consider any disciple or apostle to “work in moderation”. Jesus often talks of not wavering “to the right or the left”, or “walking through the eye of a needle”, but those are stretches for this concept. Why? Because it does not mean to “hit the middle ground” but “obey God’s law”. There is no place in the Bible which says other than “follow God’s laws”. Would we not consider a rigorous adherence to God’s commands an “extreme”? Then why do we often couch it that way? Moderation only applies in certain circumstances, but we take a hardline stance towards those things which God wants us to do. We travel on God’s extremes, the precipice between daily life and faith. What of the early Christians, then?
They dedicated their whole lives to the cause without ceasing, and many gave their lives up for it – so how does that fit in “balancing” one’s life? Paul traveled around the world incessantly until he died sometime in the first century. We regale each other with tales of Christian martyrdom as they sacrificed all for the advancement of the heavenly kingdom. How could we consider ANY of that moderation? Galatians 6 certainly does not show us anything of the sort:
6 The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
Whatever a man sows, he will reap. So how much sowing should you do? Paul tells us not to grow weary – from what? If we were balanced in life, wouldn’t we NOT have a problem of tiredness? Or would that mean that we work incessantly for Jesus Christ, whether we like to or not? That is the question!