My daily exploration of the Bible, taking it one chapter at a time. If I do it everyday, it'll take 1189 days.



Friday, September 08, 2006

Ecclesiastes 2

Life sucks

Summary:
So I tried chasing pleasure. I tried the simple and direct pleasures but that was pointless. Then I tried massive building projects, but when I looked over all that I did, I wondered "What's the point?".

So I thought about wisdom. Surely wisdom is better than being dumb? It is, but the wise and the foolish share the same fate in the end. It's pointless.

So I hated life and everything it entailed. Wisdom, labour, or pleasure. What's the point? We can't do any more than simply enjoy our work. God gives happiness to the hard workers, but again, what's the point?

Key verse:
24. A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.

My thoughts:
The international group at my church did an evangelistic evening called "What's the point?", and it basically tried to explain to people that if there is no God, and if there is not Christ, then what's the point? What's the point of all our hard work? What's the point in being good?

The Teacher is struggling with the same things. I more and more see Ecclesiastes as how the world is without Jesus.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Deane said...

Is Ecclesiastes about what it the world is like without Jesus? No - not in any direct sense.

Accepting the equivalence of Jesus and God, as one might in a Christian-canonical reading, it seems obvious that the author of Ecclesiastes ('Qoheleth' or 'The Teacher') does not deny God's/Jesus's existence or influence over the earth at all. Qoheleth accepts it as a given that everything in life is from the "hand of God" (eg, 2.24).

So if Qoheleth does not deny that all of life derives from the hand of God, what really is his problem? His problem can't be his failure to recognise God's provision of everything in life. Instead, it is something to do with life itself - even though God provides it!

There's at least 2 things that Qoheleth finds wrong with the life that God gives:

It is Qoheleth’s repeated lament about life that it most well-known in this regard: "everything is futile and a chasing after wind." Qoheleth complains that "it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with" (1.13). Events appear meaningless because God’s ways are inscrutable. Although times are appointed for everything in life, humans with their limited wisdom cannot discern the overall purpose, and everything appears futile as a result. This is one of the ground for Qoheleth's complaint. Qoheleth is not complaining because he does not know God, but because he does not understand as God understands!

Everything that Qoheleth gave himself to pursue in life was ultimately meaningless, from the pursuit of pleasure to the making of great works.

Secondly, everything that can be called "good" in life, including wisdom itself, is ultimately nothing, because of death. At the time of writing, death was believed by these writers to be final for humans, who were unconditionally "mortal". Because of death, both wise and fools will be forgotten. Death is the great equaliser, making all accomplishments come to nothing (in Qoheleth's view). "How can the wise die just like fools?" Qoheleth asks (2.16). Both people and beasts share the same fate of death (3.21). Qoheleth considers that those never born are better off than a man with a hundred children, or a man who lives 2,000 years (6.3) – both of which were sure signs of wisdom and divine favour when you read Proverbs.

Death’s inevitability is described comically by Sirach: "How can he who is dust and ashes be proud? for even in life his bowels decay ... the king of today will die tomorrow. For when a man is dead, he will inherit creeping things, and wild beasts, and worms." (10.9-11).

Qoheleth's two complaints are not solved by the realisation that there is a God. For, Qoheleth accepted that there was a God all alone. Instead, Qoheleth's complaints were addressed in Christianity when it was decided that two of his premises were incorrect:
1. Humans don't necessarily die for good, but can live forever.
2. Humans won't always see through a glass darkly, but one day will understand the mysteries of God, even as much as God understand us.

9:47 am

 
Blogger Pete W said...

I'm not going to respond to this massive comment entirely or systematically, but I will basically say that I think we're making the same point in the different ways.

Obviously Qoheleth fully understands the role of God within his rantings... but those two final points are what he clearly lacks from the revelations that comes from Christ.

Specifically I was referring to the fact that Qoheleth makes a lot more sense when it is understood without the everlasting life that comes from Jesus.

11:29 pm

 
Anonymous Deane said...

We were making the same point? Undoubtedly not. But your latest comment was essentially the same point as mine.

Originally, you mentioned that the Teacher is struggling with a world "without Jesus", not a world without the teachings of Jesus, but actually denying, ontologically, that there is a Jesus, that there is a God. You claimed that the Teacher was struggling with the point of hard work and being good, "if there is no God, and if there is not Christ". Your original point was ontological. Your latest point is not ontological.

In my comments above, I denied your original view (that Ecclesiastes was what the world was like before Jesus), at least in the "direct sense" of denying the existence of Jesus and God. I added "not in any direct sense", for I realised that a similar, but different intepretation of Ecclesiastes could be made - that the Teacher did not deny that God and Jesus existed, but denied that the eternal life offered by Jesus was available. This is a quite different position from how you originally interpreted Ecclesiastes (which was as though the Teacher were an atheist speaking and denying there was a God - an intepretation which is quite wrong, as I explained ... at some length).

But your new interpretation of Ecclesiastes has a problem as well. For, while the Teacher may lack an understanding of eternal life, so does the worldview of the book itself. That is, Ecclesiastes is not saying "Here is a person who thinks life is meaningless because he doesn't believe in eternal life". Instead, Ecclesiastes itself does not consider that eternal life is an option! Only when read in light of later books that offered eternal life (beginning with the Book of Daniel), can Ecclesiastes be read this way. But that sense doesn't come from within the book of Ecclesiastes, but from outside of it. This is not a problem if you are aware that you are adopting a particular canonical interpretation, but so often people forget that they are doing so ...

10:42 pm

 
Anonymous I can use big words too said...

'ontological' sort of rhymes with 'canonical'...

Roses are red
Violets are ontological
Ecclesiastes is meaningless
But it's canonical

"A noble deed embiggens the soul."

2:39 pm

 
Blogger Pete W said...

Ah Mark. You are amazing.

Well, then Dean, you obviously have a bizarre view on what I meant when I said that Qoheleth sees the world with out Jesus.

You basically just said "Well, Jesus equals God, and Qoheleth clearly has God in his worldview". You completely missed my point!

If I meant that I wud've said "The Teacher sees the world without God" - a blatant non-truth.

No, I said, and still maintain, that the Teacher can been seen to be describing a world without Jesus.

I admit that I blurred the picture a bit by referring to the evangelistic evening "What's the point?", as that was targeted towards a culture which doesn't have much space for either God or Jesus.

"What's the point?" was making a claim for the entire Christian worldview, which has Jesus. This is what I was referring to the Teacher lacking.

Of course it is nonsense to expect the teacher to be making ontological comments about the person Jesus. I was clearly referring to the change in worldview that Jesus creates, particularly in his promise of eternal life. It is in the way the Teacher sees the world. He can be viewed as seeing the world without Jesus.

I recognise that Jesus was certainly not the first person to put forward the concept of eternal life, but that he is the most important within Christianity for the way in which that life is received.

Your final point is understandable, though I never pretended that the Teacher was rejecting a contemporary view of eternal life (though see Ecc 3:21). And anyway, yes I am clearly taking a canonical position. I have always written, and always will write this blog as Christian and all that comes along with that. I get enough of the 'pretending to be objective' crap in class. There's only a point to which I can cope with giving lip service to things I know are not true.

Anywho... I'm not going to comment further on your silly misinterpretation of what I said. I appreciate that what I said wasn't necessarily entirely clear. I write these things often very quickly. But I wud've thought you'd give me more respect than me thinking that any ontological rejection of God was present or that any ontological rejection of Jesus was relevant here.

3:07 pm

 
Anonymous Mark said...

Pete: "I more and more see Ecclesiastes as how the world is without Jesus."

Deane: "Is Ecclesiastes about what it the world is like without Jesus? No - not in any direct sense."

Pete: "I will basically say that I think we're making the same point in the different ways."

Deane: "We were making the same point? Undoubtedly not."

Pete: "I'm not going to comment further on your silly misinterpretation of what I said."

etc...

You theology boys crack me up!

3:50 pm

 
Blogger Pete W said...

I'll crack you up!

9:31 pm

 
Anonymous Deane said...

Peter before:
The international group at my church ... basically tried to explain to people that if there is no God, and if there is not Christ, then what's the point? ... The Teacher is struggling with the same things.

Peter later:
"If I meant that I wud've said "The Teacher sees the world without God" - a blatant non-truth."

"Of course it is nonsense to expect the teacher to be making ontological comments about the person Jesus."

Humpty Dumpty:
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'

10:51 pm

 

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