No comfort to be found in here

Written by Blue Pipe Thoughts.

Opening and reading the book of Ecclesiastes is a soothing experience – at least in the beginning. The first three chapters make me feel free from the desire to understand – to figure it all out. It’s almost contemplative. A call to try and witness life without judgement. No labels, no timetables, no pressure. As the writer sits down to try and make sense of the world, he discovers that everything which seemed important really isn’t important at all:

  1. Everything is pointless, even knowledge
  2. I’ve thought about and experienced the things that supposedly make for a good life, and it’s all pointless
  3. There is a time for everything, so we may as well enjoy what is before us now
  4. Working too hard is pointless, it will bring no comfort
  5. Be careful what you hope for and plan to do, it’s better to enjoy what you have now than to horde for an uncertain future
  6. It’s tragic to have a lot and not enjoy it
  7. Seriously – everything is pointless, even wisdom
  8. Control is an illusion, and those who seek it still end up in the same place as everyone else
  9. We’re all heading for death, and we don’t know when we’ll get there
  10. Foolishness is like a blunt tool, it makes any job harder
  11. Don’t waste time – make the most of the opportunities before you, and remember God will call you to account for what you do and don’t do
  12. Remember the good things, when life begins to fade, and remember the words of this teacher who sought Godly wisdom

The trouble with the book of Ecclesiastes is that it never really makes any kind of point. If you come to this book feeling confused and looking for answers, you’re unlikely to find clarity by the time you get to the end of it, in fact you’re likely to be left in a greater state of confusion. By the time we get to chapter seven I feel that the author has reached the limits of language, with what he’s trying to communicate and has stopped making sense – his thinking even becomes quite dangerous. In chapter four the author suggests that death is better than a hard life, a point he reiterates further on.

A lot of the ‘wisdom’ you find in this book is the kind of stuff you might hear down the pub after a few bevvies; money won’t make you happy, you should enjoy what you’ve got while you can… etc. It’s an interesting and entertaining read, but perhaps it needs to come with a bit of a health warning: No comfort to be found in here. Quite frankly, it’s probably not the best book of the Bible to turn to when feeling emotionally or spiritually low. On the other hand, I think it could be very comforting when feeling overwhelmed. When life seems like a path that’s mapped out with no branches or turnings – and all joy has been sucked from the journey. Ecclesiastes encourages the reader to enjoy life as much as possible without being hedonistic. Stop – smell the flowers, enjoy a good meal, spend time with people that you love. Because even if everything is actually pointless at the end of the day, these little things are still good.

I feel that Ecclesiastes is a good book to mull over and chuckle about, but God feels very distant. I suspect that the teacher, for all his cleverness with words, didn’t have much experience of finding God in the hard times of life as well as the good.

La Mort de Procris, sculpture by Jean Escoula (1851-1911), Parc du Chateau de Rambouillet,