Ecclesiastes is a brilliant book. It both admits that life is out of our control and yet wisdom is to be found in the midst of it. Ecclesiastes is therefore part of the wisdom literature within the bible, alongside Job and Proverbs. Each of these books have different tones and perspectives of life, but all need to be read together in order to appreciate true wisdom’s grand perspective. Ecclesiastes is probably the lesser read book; the opening statement immediately shows us why: “‘Everything is meaningless,’ says the Teacher, ‘Utterly meaningless!'” Maybe after reading this first verse we’d quickly flick through the pages to Proverbs instead. But the aim of Ecclesiastes is not to dishearten us. The purpose of this book is to sober us, it makes no promises that if we are good in life then we will receive good in return, life does not work that way. Due to this, life seems like an enigma. Ecclesiastes’ main purpose is to deconstruct of all the things we pursue apart from God in order to gather meaning in life. The overall conclusion of the book is that we cannot attempt to control life, it is completely unpredictable. We must live each day in the moment, being grateful for friendships, family and the beauty of nature in the moment we’re in whilst knowing these things are fleeting and can be taken away. We are told to live in fear of the only thing which is not fleeting or unpredictable: God. This is where wisdom is found.
In this blog we will look at how Ecclesiastes deconstructs our pursuit of greatness through describing the steadfastness of nature in the face of the fleeting nature of time.
Ecclesiastes makes an assessment of the human condition, and recognizes a characteristic present in each generation: our pursuit for greatness in order to derive meaning in life. One thing we must note here is that my reference to ‘great’ is of course man’s definition of it. Greatness in the eyes of man means ‘how can I showcase myself?’ We create high-rise cities, vast empires and clever technology. An individual’s invention or discovery usually holds the ambition to get their name in lights, books and newspapers. We can sometimes see this in our everyday lives: giving a great idea in a meeting, creating the next adored song for worship or simply writing a blog that will wow everyone. Now, none of these things on their own are problematic, we are called to create and discover, what Ecclesiastes is pointing to here is when this becomes a means of propping ourselves up. The aim in doing so is to have their name remembered, to achieve something great that cannot fade away. Ecclesiastes proclaims how both utterly futile this pursuit is, and that we are continuously left wanting. The ‘Teacher’ of Ecclesiastes, whose wise words we read, thus sees it fit to sober us by explaining the brevity of time.
The Teacher wants us to bring our hurried pursuit of attaining greatness and listen to what he has to say, and hopes that by the end of his address we’ll exchange this pursuit for wisdom. This is done through a poem in 1:3-11. The poem describes 4 elements of God’s creation that have been here from the beginning, and to this day are here still: the earth, sun, wind and rivers. The Teacher explains how each element takes its expected course from one day to the next, as they watch generation after generation pass, nations rising and falling. In doing so, the poem is wanting us to see how in the face of the discoveries, inventions and ideas we churn out as humanity, nature remains steadfast. The sun has been here long before any of us and will continue to be long after. Today’s grand idea and latest technology will eventually become old and dated, and yet nature remains firm on its course.
What is the poem wanting us to feel? Well these words are likened to a goad, which prods in order to keep us from wandering down paths which do not lead to the Lord. So don’t be alarmed if this poem feels disheartening, Ecclesiastes doesn’t leave it there. The poem uses nature to point us back to its Creator. In the face of mountains how can our hearts wander to what can make ourselves great – the mountains declare that God is great! The sun declares that God is steadfast. The poem is wanting us to see how nature is not trying to attain greatness through its own effort, it stands firm in the greatness of who it reflects. This was always how things were meant to be. This is what we are created for, we can rest and lean back in the knowledge of not that which we have done but who God is. Doesn’t that knowledge make the pressures of this world melt away? We are to be like the nature we see around us, remaining steady and solid in the beauty and greatness of whom we reflect.
Written by:Abigail Armstrong