ECCLESIASTES 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
The Book of Ecclesiastes. What’s it all about? Who wrote it? Can we believe everything it says?
The most likely author of Ecclesiastes is King Solomon, as 1:1 seems to indicate. It was apparently written in his later life and possibly in a melancholy old age. It clearly lists a great number of life experiences and experiments that ‘The Teacher’ engaged in to discover more about the meaning of life. It is a kind of ‘experimental notebook’ – the sort that a scientist would construct – built up over a considerable time by the author. That may have been the human motivation, but what was God’s purpose in inspiring it and including it in scripture?
My view is that today Ecclesiastes is an incredible challenge to an atheistic or humanistic world-view. It is an evangelist tool that cuts deep into human hearts and takes the half-formed and illogical thoughts of the godless to their logical conclusion. The key phrase to understand any and all of Ecclesiastes is ‘UNDER THE SUN’, which occurs 27 time in just twelve chapters. ‘Under the Sun’ means to view the world from a purely material-, finite-, and physical- point of view, ignoring any eternal, divine, heavenly, or non-physical components to life. It is a ‘What you see is what you get’ kind of approach to life’s meanings – which, as we read on, does not get you very far. One of the main purposes of the book is to get you to think – and to question your beliefs about life, faith, and the hereafter. If you believe that life is derived from nothing more than the result of unguided evolutionary chance, that it is just a type of refined chemical ‘soup’ of intelligent beings, and that once you are dead, you are dead – then you need to pose yourself some searching questions about why you live as you do, and why your values are what they are.
For example, if you listen to the popular media’s “line” on the origin of life, you will be convinced that humans have emerged triumphantly as victors in life’s evolutionary battle to the death, ‘elbowing out’ less ‘efficient’ creatures, and being among the ‘fittest’ who have survived. If that is indeed the case, then why are we so concerned about the balance of ecology on earth, about global warming, the extinction of some species, and the mistreatment of certain animals by human beings? Surely, according to pure atheistic evolutionary dogma, these things should be causes for celebration! Surely the selfish gene has finally triumphed!
And yet we don’t. We are concerned for the needs of animals in our care; we fight to preserve endangered species; we impoverish ourselves to attempt to limit our carbon emissions and we treasure the beauty and peace of the countryside. All completely illogical. What’s gone wrong?
Furthermore, we instinctively appeal to a universal morality, a common sense of justice, and use rational arguments as though they operated through a universal consensus. Where did all these important qualities originate? If we deny their objective origins, then all you are left with are subjective opinions that carry no weight at all.
When challenging ungodly belief systems, such as evolutionary atheism (one of the most aggressive and dogmatic of religions, by the way), it is often more fruitful to ask probing questions than to supply simplistic answers. Plant the questions and let them do their work. That’s what Ecclesiastes is good at; it probes and niggles, it extrapolates, and it stretches viewpoints to their logical conclusions – and often we do not like where it takes us. It is the sand in the oyster that could potentially produce a pearl. As we read this book, written by the wisest of wise teachers, our own minds are tuned in to a new evangelistic methodology. As we grasp the concept, then we can construct a new Ecclesiastes for our generation!
““Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless”. What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. (1:2-8)
The circle of life ‘under the sun’ becomes monotonous and wearisome, creating in the thinker a desperate need to break out of that circle into something that is ‘going somewhere! We know, deep down that: “He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (3:11) We may not acknowledge this fact, but our hopes, fears, thinking, planning, morality, and deepest desires are based on our being made of an eternal matrix, and on lives that will genuinely go on forever. We know that nothing else can possibly make sense. So does Ecclesiastes – except that it does not tell us the answers, but rather, goads us into answering our own questions.
We will look at more of this great book tomorrow.