This summer I’ve been reading and teaching through the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s one of the most fascinating books of the Old Testament and quickly it has moved into a circle of favorite books of the Bible. What you see in the book is an honest detailing of an experiment – trying to make sense of life “under the sun” by looking at it purely from the vantage point of everything between life and death without any divine input. How does one find meaning and purpose in life without some sort of theology? The conclusion that the author (some think it’s Solomon but in fairness we’ll call him Quoheleth, the teacher or mentor) arrives at is it’s all “vanity.” That word has a varied meaning. It can mean utter purposeless, meaninglessness. Or it can describe life as fleeting. One day it’s experienced in fullness but then the next there is an experience of lacking. Or it can mean life is absurd (that gets close to the secular existentialists of the twentieth century, doesn’t it).
But the real reason why I have come to love the book is the author makes statements that leave me unsettled. I’m not left with cheap, nice, cliche Christian answers. For instance, what do we do with statements like verse one where he says, “The day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth”? Or what do we do with the thought that life can get so oppressive at times that it feels like our heart got bribed to throw the towel in? These aren’t nice teachings. They really push the envelop as to what real life is like and how we experience it. There’s no way that we can adopt a simplistic picture of the Christian life. There’s no way that much of what the Bible teaches can be reduced down to a “These are the keys to “fill in the blank”. Life for most feels and is experienced in a much more raw way that that.
We made some conclusions on Thursday night when the young adults at church gathered about why we think this statement is actually true. If you actually stop to think about it it’s uncomfortably true. The point is not to rehash the comments that were made but it’s to point out that he richness of Ecclesiastes is like a medicine to our souls. It takes us out of a simplistic, reductionistic approach to our faith and puts us square in the middle of real life.
As I said on Thursday night, life is filled with disappointments. That doesn’t mean I hate my life now. But it does mean that not everything goes the way I thought it would, or dreamed it would. I am in the middle of a life that in some ways is not what I thought it was going to be. I can remember the times in grad school in Boulder when I said, “I would never become a pastor.” That statement worked out well for me… In many ways, the blessings of God are abundant! But what do I do when disappointments come? Jesus is not something that I “slap” onto my life like a bumper sticker that all of a sudden makes my life better. What I’m learning is the sufficiency of Jesus even when life does not fit the simplistic picture that I have… He is enough even in the complexity of life.