Friday, July 07, 2006

Does Mental Overstimulation Endanger True Worship?

"For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with
many words" (Ecclesiastes 5:3).
Some commentators have understood this verse to mean that too much work causes restlessness in sleep, and too many words indicate the vanity and foolishness of a person. But as I've been studying Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 I'm left wondering if there is something else in view in the context of the passage. Below are some brief thoughts from my study today in preparation to teach the students on Wednesday evening.
There is a certain mental fatigue that comes with sensory overload. We know this to be quite true, better than most in the world, because Western culture bombards us with thousands of images and spools of information through print, cyber-space and entertainment outlets such as radio and television. On most days I feel like my head is spinning because of all of the information I've taken in during the course of the day reading blogs, news articles, the Scriptures, not to mention the unending barage of visual images received. The result, at least for me, is often an inability to focus clearly (on anything) without taking time away to simply be silent and mentally debrief.
In Ecclesiastes 5 Solomon warns us to guard our steps when entering into God's presence. He calls us to pay attention and obey God's words and avoid the folly of the sacrifice of fools, which are cavalier words uttered in the presence of the One who is in heaven. By reminding us that God is in heaven and we are on earth, it is once again brought to our attention that God is much more grande, more majestic, and more valuable than we are as mere creatures on this earth (though, significantly, creatures made in His image nonetheless).
It seems that we are being warned of a contributing factor to the "sacrifice of fools" found in the verse above. After we are told to let our words be few, the author says, "For a dream comes with much business, and fool's voice with many words". There is an intentional contrast here. Futhermore, the word "dream" is used again in 5:7.
The word "business" can quite literally mean a "flood of events or images". When I'm flooded with events and images it often produces what we might call a "daydream". Think about it. When you are unfocused or doing what my friend Natalie King likes to call "free-talking", you often say many words to convey something that could have been said in a much simpler fashion. In other words, you express yourself with a scrambled thoughts stream-of-consciousness style.
What I am getting at? An overstimulated mind that is unable to focus on God makes it difficult for us to listen (5:1) to a holy God. A mind flooded with events and images often approaches God with the same haste (which we are warned against in 5:2) that we embrace all of life. The result of this kind of approach to worship leads to sin (God calls this evil; 5:1, 6) and fails to honor God with the reverance that He demands and deserves.
The frightening reality is that this is not a sin of ignorance. It is a deliberate, intentional sin. This is the point of 5:6-7. In our haste to encounter God on our terms and within the boundaries of our hurried lives and schedules, we often say words we don't mean, makes promises we won't keep, and then try to tell God that it was simply a mistake (5:6), when in fact, we never really intended to do what we promised. We only hoped to appease God with the eloquence of our words.
There is much more to be said about this text, and admittedly my thoughts are incomplete, but I hope that this causes you to pause and heed the words and warning of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.


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