In my “Max Barnett” study which is what my family calls our particular reading the bible through in a year plan, we are reading through Ecclesiastes. It seems fully loaded with wisdom and philosophies on life so I thought I would take an amateur crack at unraveling what he means. I want to apply it to my own life, but keep in mind that this isn’t the only way to apply them to life. I find myself drawn more and more to the hippie-esque lifestyle of organic foods and minimal possessions. You may not find yourself in that same calling. That doesn’t mean your way is less right than mine, simply different.
But, I digress. Today’s blog concerns the last two days readings: Ecclesiastes 1:1- 3:15. He starts out very depressingly. It kind of reminds me of the first chapter of John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life. The first chapter was all about existentialism. I believe Piper wrote about existentialism because he found that while that was the philosophy of one time period, it was repackaged later into a different time period. As Solomon repeatedly says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” We may think we have the answers with our new ways of living, but as we progress through the book of Ecclesiastes, we find that Solomon tried it all and determined that in the end, it was all “chasing after the wind.”
16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
18 For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 ESV
Solomon acquired wisdom, and it made him sad. He saw what humanity is capable of. I’ve seen it to. When you have wisdom you realize that humans aren’t basically good creatures though we like to think we are. In the words of CS Lewis, we are horribly bent creatures (paraphrased). I wrote a previous blog about this so I won’t expand further, but knowing the realities of the world is sad. And being the wisest man who ever lived cannot decrease humanity’s bentness. It’s all meaningless.
Solomon sought pleasure and it didn’t satisfy. He sought work and success, and found he couldn’t enjoy it. He sought wisdom and philosophy; he sought teaching it to pupils. But at the end of the day, he was going to die, and someone else would pass his ideas on and get the credit. Everyone dies. Rich, poor, wise, fools, they all meet their Maker.
26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:26 ESV
You see the Maker, God, makes this make sense. God gives, pleasure and wisdom and success–and work. And after this Solomon strikes on the heart of the matter.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break 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 cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ESV
It’s this idea of tension. Life is beautiful AND disappointing. There’s a time for war and peace. We can’t always have peace though we might want it.
12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.[a]
Ecclesiastes 3:12-15 ESV
God is outside of time. I believe Solomon said it first. He knew it way back when time was measured with sun dials. God doesn’t deal in terms of time. Though we see a time for everything, God just sees everything. He knows the end results, we suffer through things for a time, and God allows it because He knows what we don’t. He knows the end of the story. Like the people who skip to the end of the novel so that there’s no surprises. There are no surprises to God. Just like there are no surprises to the author. It’s not a perfect metaphor because as the author is writing, the ending might change, the characters may change from what the author originally thought he or she wanted. God isn’t in the process of writing, we are in the process of acting, but God is already at the end and the present and the past all at once.
So what must be done? I find myself seeing more and more that there’s something to humanitarianism. Not in the worldly sense. Because we’ve already established that humans aren’t good. But in the biblical sense that we are all God’s creatures. All of this talk about nothing reminds me of the nothingness Paul was concerned with.
1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
1Corinthians 13:1-3 The Message
Paul found the meaning in the meaningless. Love. Trust God, love relentlessly, hope steadfastly, live balanced.
I don’t know Solomon’s conclusions because I’m not there in the book yet, but these are the conclusions I’m drawing from what I’ve read so far.