Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Book of Ecclesiastes, part 2


After all the disappointment and feelings of meaninglessness in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes the next three chapters look at earthly happiness, its difficulties and means of advancement. Read 3: 1-8:
1 There is a time for everything,
   and a season for every activity under the heavens:
 2 a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
   a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 6 a time to search and a time to give up,
   a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
   a time to be silent and a time to speak,
 8 a time to love and a time to hate,
   a time for war and a time for peace.
Pete Seeger adapted these verses into the lyrics for the song Turn, Turn, Turn, sung by The Byrds.
The general impression doesn’t seem so meaningless. Keep reading:
 9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
So Solomon argues that there is nothing better than to be happy and to do good. It seems easy to find happiness: eat, drink, find satisfaction in work. Then Solomon gets solemn again and by the time you get to the end of the chapter, where he reiterates the happiness formula, he has measured once more the futility: You can’t change things, so “don’t worry, be happy”. I guess Solomon was the first to figure that out. In the next few chapters he looks at all the impediments to happiness: oppression, envy, riches, and evil.
True (and practical) wisdom is explored in chapters 6 through 8:15. Read and ponder a few of the verses from chapter 7. From 8:16 to 10:20 we find the relation of true wisdom to man’s life. Consider first 8:16, 17:
 16 When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— 17 then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.
We are humans with finite minds. Of course we can’t comprehend it all.