Gleanings from the Bible: Ecclesiastes.

If ever there was a wisdom book for our western world, this is it! It is a sober wake-up call about life without God and, coincidentally, to a society living to excess!

The message has been ascribed to Solomon, and while the authorship is debated there is no doubt that he would have been in an ideal position to sample all that life had to offer and comment on its meaning, or otherwise.

The author’s point is simple but depressing. What goes round, comes round. Pleasure has no point to it, no productive purpose. Most of our work is done to make others envious. We’re all going to die and we have no control over the time. You can’t take anything that you’ve worked for with you. We will then be forgotten by following generations.

How are you feeling?

We know these things are true but we tend to push them to the back of our mind, only to be brought out of mothballs briefly when we attend a funeral or find that a loved one has contracted cancer, or when the business collapses. In the extremities of life we think about purpose and mortality, but as the author of this book records, They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (5:20)

Never has this been so true as it is today, when every form of entertainment and every piece of information is at our fingertips via phone, tablet, TV and whatever else our technological world has in store. We are constantly distracted from thinking about the significance of life, and not just by binge-watching TV, or wallowing in the addictions associated with pornography, sex, drugs and alcohol, or even food! Many people’s lives are consumed by their work, or a sport or hobby, or the acquisition of power and wealth. Their time is spent in travelling and the collection of new experiences. We all look for some sort of significance, even if it only the proverbial “fifteen minutes of fame” – or five seconds of fame if it is Facebook or Twitter!

The author of Ecclesiastes tried it all. Well, everything that was available in his day. And do you know what? He found that when he stopped to think about it, he was left feeling emptiness and I think rather bitter — It’s all meaningless and it doesn’t ultimately satisfy!

So did he have an answer to it all?

I think he did. And I think that there are two aspects to it, both summed up in the following verses…

     A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This        too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?  To the
person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness… (2:24-26)

The first is to acknowledge that life is from God. It is he who gives it meaning. He has set eternity in the human heart. The writer’s advice in chapter twelve  is…

     Remember your Creator
     in the days of your youth,
     before the days of trouble come
     and the years approach when you will say,
     “I find no pleasure in them”

With God as the focus of life, the pleasures of life have a context, a meaning and a fulfilment. In other words, pleasure is most enjoyable when God is at the centre of the way you live.

So the other aspect to this advice is to live a life that is balanced. Like a bicycle wheel with God as the hub. In a western world, that seems to be frantically trying to live life in excess, stop a moment and smell the roses, enjoy the simple things of life, find enjoyment in your work, meditate and pray, fear God and keep his commandments (12:13).

In a wider biblical context we can see that God has given us the purpose of knowing him and sharing in his glory. The People of God are called to make God and his Son, Jesus Christ known to all humanity. And when we do so God gives us the ability to properly and maximally enjoy the life that he has given us, even as we look forward to the next life he has prepared for us.

Have a joyous New Year!