The Book of Ecclesiastes
I am confounded by the book of Ecclesiastes. As mentioned in the post “…and Then You Die,” Ecclesiastes is a depressing read. It is pessimistic and its main point to put God first is easy to miss.
Ecclesiastes abounds with negativity and hyperbole, yet it also contains some wise thoughts and astute observations. Separating the two takes effort and focus. Yet doing so means to discount some parts of this book as foolishness and to embrace other parts as sound. This is unwise, because to do so we must apply our own biases and perceptions of what to accept (such as, obey God) and what to reject (such as, death is better than life). Reading Solomon’s words in this manner merely reinforces what we already know and teaches us nothing new.
What I do know is that given Solomon’s proclivity towards hyperbole in Ecclesiastes, using his words by themselves as a basis for understanding God is not warranted. It is imperative to make sure any conclusions made are also supported elsewhere in biblical texts.
So if Ecclesiastes is not much use for direct instruction, then what good is it?
If I read Ecclesiastes strictly as a story, then I do see one lesson emerge: smart people can be pretty whacked out and morose in their thinking. Is that the point?
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.