The book of Ecclesiastes has always captured me with its heart-piercing truths. As a non-believing cynical youth who argued fiercely about the hypocrisy of Christians, I was won over by a personal God who gently, but unapologetically claimed His position in my life as my Creator (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
As a believer for two decades now, I have strived to please God and seek His guidance in my studies, marriage, children, career and even service in ministry. Time and again in my spiritual journey, I have found myself falling prey to the vanities of toiling for reward, pleasure, wisdom and acclaim. The words of the wise man, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless”, echo in the chambers of my heart as I ride the highs and lows of these pursuits.
In my area of work, I see the best and worst of people who are embroiled in prolonged conflict and disputes. Although there is joy and satisfaction in assisting them to find an amicable resolution, there are also times when the existential philosophy embedded in Ecclesiastes can be disheartening.
It does not seem to matter how many disputes we resolve, conflicts at all levels continue to persist. History continues to repeat itself.
What is our response to the meaninglessness and futility that Ecclesiastes exudes? It seems rather trite to take literally the sprinkling of exhortations to “eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart… and to enjoy life.” (9:7-9). Taken out of context, it might perpetuate a blase attitude to eat, drink and be merry while we still can. Or could it be another extreme where we throw our hands up in despair and allow hopelessness and despair to overcome us?
Philip Yancey, in “The Bible Jesus Read”, has this to say: “Unless we acknowledge our limits and subject ourselves to God’s rule, unless we trust the Giver of all good things, we will end up in a state of despair. Ecclesiastes calls us to accept our status as creatures under the dominion of the Creator, something few of us do without a struggle”.
The book of Ecclesiastes demonstrates the reality of the faith that Jesus lived out – one that perseveres, struggles, triumphs, errs, laments, despairs, repents; and eventually discovers strength, focus and perspective in light of God’s plan. We look to the One who gives us meaning amidst the meaninglessness, we hunker down to the tasks assigned, and we enjoy the fruits of our labours if and when they come. There will be differences in the journeys we take, but there will be one common destiny – the end of this life and an accounting to our Maker.
After living a full life, the elderly wise Teacher (presumably King Solomon) concludes on this sombre note: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
By Mrs Linda Leong (YCKC Bulletin 25&26 July 2015)