First, a word about reading the Bible. I think that a lot of people who read the Bible can miss two very important things. First that the Bible is made of a diversity of theme and parts the create a greater whole. Each book plays a role in building a clearer picture of God’s redemptive work in history. This will help because it can make you thankful for a book like Ecclesiastes which leaves you wishing you could hear a little bit more about what life IS about, and a little less about the fleeting value of things that seems so important to us. In the symphony of truth, Ecclesiastes plays the dirging Bass note and does so beautifully, only leaving a glimmer of hope. Second, the different authors and genres of the Bible speak to different parts of our human condition and experience. A book like Ecclesiastes in the genre of wisdom literature helps to take knowledge and bore it into the soul of our being and experience. We can feel the truths it addresses while we bring the ideas before our mind and this is much different than reading a narrative like The Acts of the Apostles.
So, if the conclusion of the matter is that all of the aspects of life addressed by Ecclesiastes are a meaningless chasing of the wind, how do we hold that in tension with our recognition that there does seem to be glimpses of beauty and meaning in family, justice, work, wisdom, and such. As I said yesterday, we seem to reach into these boxes of life because there appears to be something promising about them, the fulfilling of some deep longing that we have. Further the very real experience of life is that some of these things seem to deliver on the promise of meaning and life, even if not totally satisfying and eventually fading. I sit in nature and I don’t feel the endless circulation of the water cycle, but instead a certain discernable goodness and beauty that I long for and can almost feel. At the birth of a child and in the love of a wife and family I do not immediately feel the closeness of death and the immediacy of being forgotten by a fickle world. Instead I sense that there is something real here, something particularly right, even if I know that death can come without warning. Eventually, death will come to all, riches will fade, honor and glory will be forgotten, and The Teacher of Ecclesiastes is right to warn us not to place our hope in these things.
Ecclesiastes instructs us in an important theme. The idea is that these lesser “goods” are not ultimate and cannot bear the weight of the eternal desire for God that has been placed in our hearts. Ecclesiastes 3:11 seems to capture the truth of the book in one simple statement and this seems to be the meaning of the idea that God has put eternity into man’s heart. The lesser goods are signposts of desire, but always leave us longing for the country to which they point. For this reason they are good, but they do not complete life in such a way that we can just remain with them. In the eyes of Solomon, it is a tragedy for us to stop on the road to the eternal city to remain forever among the signposts.
As I thought about this idea the other night I thought of one of my favorite writers. Tomorrow I will look at this idea through his eyes and share some of the connections with Ecclesiastes.