Updated: Nov 15, 2021
It is one of the most unusual books in the Bible. There is nothing quite like it in all of Scripture. The same is true of ancient literature. The same is true of modern as well. Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Sartre, and Camus all stand on the shoulders of an old, and worn-out, soul.
What am I talking about? Of whom do I speak?
I'm referring to Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes has long been a fascination of mine. After all these years, he retains a strong, and uneasy, grip on me.
Ecclesiastes is powerful and poetic. It is shockingly honest, and deeply troubling.
Ecclesiastes is maddening, yet wonderful to contemplate.
Ecclesiastes is a heart-wrenching look at life with God, under the sun, here and now.
Down through the ages many have asked the question: What is this book doing in the Bible?
I've yet to find a commentary that does justice to the deeply disturbing nature of Ecclesiastes. It seems that many Biblical scholars are determined to give us a happy ending. But in my book, this completely fails to understand what the old Preacher who wrote Ecclesiastes had to say.
The Preacher, the son of David, king of Jerusalem, begins his sermon with one of the most remarkable introductions ever put down on paper:
"Meaningless! Meaningless!" Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!"
And try as he might, the Preacher ends where he started:
"Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!"
It seems that even the old Preacher's contemporaries couldn't let his sermon stand on its own. And so someone quickly added their own conclusion to soften his blows (12:9-14). It's been like this ever since. And that is a shame, truly a shame.
We desperately need someone like Ecclesiastes. He asks uncomfortable questions, and refuses pat answers. His unflinching look at life, under the sun, here and now, can take one's breath away.
Maybe this is what the old Preacher was trying to do.
Ecclesiastes reminds me of two of the hardest lessons that we need to learn in life:
First, God is God. He does whatever he pleases. The sooner that we take this truth to heart, the better.
"Our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases." So declared God's people of old (Psalm 115:3)
What does this mean?
God doesn't answer to anyone. He answers only to Himself. He doesn't have to explain Himself to us. He doesn't have to defend Himself in the court of popular opinion. He simply does whatever He pleases.
The second lesson that I've learned from Ecclesiastes is this: Life here and now, life with God, often makes little or no sense.
How can I, a pastor, say such a thing?
I say it because it's true.
You don't have to take my word for this. Consider what the apostle Paul had to say about the matter: "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people" (1 Corinthians 15:19).
As I continue to think about the maddening, yet wonderful sermon by the old Preacher, I'm reminded of something that Blaise Pascal wrote: "Not only do we know God by Jesus Christ alone, but we know ourselves only by Jesus Christ. We know life and death only through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ, we do not know what is our life, nor our death, nor God, nor ourselves."
I challenge you to read Ecclesiastes for yourself. I challenge you to do this in just one sitting, from beginning to end. It should only take you a half hour or so. Then, perhaps, you'll begin to see what this old preacher is trying to tell us.