Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ecclesiastes: What is the Good Life?

When I went to the Smokeys last summer, everyone asked me the same question when I got home: “Did you have a good vacation?”

While on the trip, a friend asked me a very poignant question: “I am trying my best to live for Christ. Why do I feel so restless and unfulfilled?  What am I not happy? How do I find the good life?” 

The good vacation.  The good life.

When I got home, I read this in a Newsweek article called "My Transoceanic Midlife Crisis." 
"‘I pared life down to the basics to find out what really mattered to me, to find out what was left when I was defined by who I was, not by what I owned or who I was with. I was letting go of everything that had represented security—my job, my husband, my home, my possessions…It was liberating, but I was like a carpenter with a brand-new set of tools and no wood to work on. I needed a project.’ Sailing won out over ‘less extreme options, such as an organic baking business and planning a motorcycle trip…’
Everyone wants the good life.

This search for meaning is not a new search.  The book of Ecclesiastes is an often overlooked and seldom discussed book, but it has tremendous relevance for today.

Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, whose wisdom and wealth was perhaps unparalleled in ancient times.  He is responsible for three books in the Old Testament: The Song of Songs, written first; Proverbs, written second; and then Ecclesiastes, most likely written at a time his kingdom was crumbling around him due to the idol worship he had allowed in the land. 

The title means “one who addresses an assembly.” The word he uses for God is Elohim, which – more than other words he could have used- focused his audience on God as a Creator, and us as the created. Solomon is apparently wanting to address a wider audience than just the Jewish people.

He is addressing a universal human condition.  What is the point of life?  How do I find meaning and purpose and hope in the midst of a world that can be very confusing?

Ecclesiastes is not a smooth read. It’s a chronicling of the search for meaning. Solomon focuses on particular ideas, then summarizes by giving short lists of principles that he wants to make sure the reader remembers (they read a lot like proverbs).  He goes back and forth a bit – just like real life.  It’s not the kind of book that you necessarily want to pull individual verses from; like his father David, Solomon has some ups and downs.

This is, perhaps, the closest we have to an autobiography in the Bible. So, as an exercise in applying a 4,000 year old book to today, I decided to rewrite Ecclesiastes like a modern journal. (I encourage you to read the book yourself, as my overview does not do justice to the depth of the book.)  

As this series unfolds, each entry summarizes the main thoughts of a chapter or section.  In doing this, I consulted a number of different translations and commentaries to be sure I stayed true to the main ideas, though as you will see I added a little of my own tone here and there.

Not every chapter/ journal entry is easy to read or hear; remember, the big picture is important.  And even though in the end Ecclesiastes is not what I would call inspirational,  it’s honest, and its conclusion is true.  That makes it well worth reading.

Part 2: "Hebel Happens"

No comments:

Post a Comment