Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

BIBLE: Ecclesiastes (Road Map for Life)

The book of Ecclesiastes can be read in different ways: as a mirror to reflect on past mistakes and failures; as a lens to look down the road to the future; as a road map to show us where we’re at right now. Past, future and present; Ecclesiastes covers the whole geography of life. That is, if we’re wise enough to read it wisely. The most famous section is the poetic section showing an appropriate time for everything under the sun. Wisdom may be simply this: do the right thing at the right time; nothing more and nothing less. Timing is everything. Is this poetic view of time fatalistic? In other words, should we read this section as if it says, things will happen. The universe is wound up like a clock and will run out in its own good time. We’re just cogs in a machine and there’s nothing we can do about it. All is vanity. Or, should we interpret time in a more optimistic way? Is the advice given here not fatalistic at all but a much more uplifting message: be patient. What goes around comes around. Your time will come. All will be well.
But all is not well. Not by a long shot. Why is life good to some people and not to others? Is it the luck of the draw? Do some people just get stuck being a bad cog in the machine of life? Or is it because some people put forth the effort needed to live better lives? Ecclesiastes offers a map to a better way of life. A man can navigate through his life without using a map. But Ecclesiastes says he has a fool for a navigator. The world is a tough neighborhood and we all need help getting through it safely. The Preacher is well aware of this and says, “I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart…” What does he mean?
Let’s take four examples and call them A, B, C, and D. But first let’s get our terms straight. What is “travail”? Merriam-Webster says, Travail: a difficult experience or situation, painful or difficult work or effort. “Sons of men” means all of us. “Exercise” is the act of bringing into play or realizing in action. Put it all together and it means all of us are born into a tough world. We didn’t ask to be here but here we are. And the kicker is this: one day we’re all going to die. Ecclesiastes asks one question: so what are you going to do about it? Now the four responses:
A. Doesn’t use the past as a mirror to reflect his mistakes and failures and he refuses to use books like Ecclesiastes as a lens to see a vision for a better life. He only lives for the here and now and rejects any kind of map. All will not be well with this man.
B. Uses the past as a mirror but gets stuck brooding on his past mistakes and failures. He can’t see the future because the past looks so dark. He lives facing backwards because his past haunts him. All will not be well with this man and Ecclesiastes cannot help him.
C. Never looks back. He wants to move on and forget the past ever existed. He wants to erase his mistakes and failures as if they never happened. Ecclesiastes says he has no roots and all will not be well with this man because he never learns.
D. Looks back at his mistakes and failures and tries to figure out what went wrong. Then he makes plans for a better life in the future. He may make more mistakes and failures but they won’t be the same ones over and over. All may not be well with this man either. But he’s got a better shot at happiness if he uses the map of Ecclesiastes.
To summarize. Ecclesiastes is a book and it’s also a map. Use it wisely. No matter where I’m at this book is a good starting point for the rest of the journey. No matter where I’m starting from I can always pick up this book and Ecclesiastes will tell me YOU ARE HERE...X.


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