Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

BIBLE: Ecclesiastes

Americans love self-help books. We read tons of books about how to be healthier, how to have better relationships at home or at work, how to succeed in business or parenting or sports. In short, we want to be happy. Before picking up yet another self-help book, most people would be better off to pick up the book of Ecclesiastes. Here are the answers you’ve been looking for. It won’t tell you whether to eat more fiber or change careers or anything like that. But whatever you’re REALLY looking for (deep down inside), you can find it in the pages of this book. Ecclesiastes is like a mirror that reflects back your true self. Here are three possibilities:
(1) Some people think life is just one long struggle: Life’s a bitch, then you die. The Preacher agrees with you: The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. “Vanity” is a word we don’t use much anymore; we would say “meaningless” instead of vanity. So the message here is that life is basically meaningless. Why? There are several reasons but the most important reason is because we’ll end up dying some day, no matter what we do. The Preacher puts it this way: how dieth the wise man? as the fool… that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. According to the Preacher, no matter how rich we are, or how good-looking, or how wise, we’re all gonna die. So put away your self-help books, they won’t do you any good in the end.
(2) This message is too bleak for some people. You may be one of those who point out that there are many bad things in life, but there are a lot of good things too. Life’s a mixture of good and bad. We just take them as they come. The Preacher agrees with you. He writes a famous poem about it: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die… There you have it. We may die some day but in the meantime there’s a life to be lived. So accept it for what it is. Sometimes you’ll be sad, sometimes you’ll be happy. The Preacher goes on to say that there’s A time to weep, and a time to laugh;… a time to mourn, and a time to dance;… A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace…A time to kill, and a time to heal… The thing about life is not so much HOW to do something, but WHEN to do it. You won’t find those answers in self-help books.
(3) Finally there are people who think both of those views are wrong. You may believe that as long as you’re alive there’s hope and if nothing else you should at least be happy in that fact. The Preacher agrees with you too: For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything… Things may not be going too well right now but at least I’m not dead. That’s a start. This is a very simple approach to life: There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. The simple things in life are best. Enjoy good food, do your work well, praise God. Let everything else be. No self-help book is necessary.

So where does that leave us? Do you think life is pointless? Well, you’re right, it is. Do you think life is really more of a mixture of good and bad things all jumbled up together? Well, you’re right too. Do you think there really is a purpose to life and that it’s always a treasure and a blessing? Guess what, you’re also right. Don’t like these answers or think they can’t all be right? Too bad for you. The Preacher says If the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be. If you don’t like where the tree fell, then too bad for you. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. He was a wise man.


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