Jeremy Stein - Journal

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Why I Like Ecclesiastes

I remember a day growing up when my brother and I discovered that you could call a certain number on the phone and play a game. I think it was sort of a choose-your-own-adventure game where you pressed a number to make your choice. We thought it was great and we were enjoying playing it. Then, Mom announced that she had made fudge and brought in the tray. What more could a child want! But I distinctly remember that, as I ate the fudge and listened to my brother play the game, I felt empty and dissatisfied. Here I was, with every pleasure I could desire, yet it didn’t really satisfy. Tomorrow would be another day and life’s ups and downs would continue.

Much later in life, I worked in Massachusetts for six months and stayed with a Christian family there. They spent nearly every weekend working on their house (which had been a fixer-upper, but was coming along nicely), and every weekend I helped them. This was a great experience and I have no complaints, but I do remember one day, while painting a wall, feeling dissatisfied with all this work. Often when you work on a project, you feel satisfied with what you accomplish. Perhaps because this work continued every weekend, I felt like there was no point in it all. For all the work I did, there was always more to do. What satisfaction could there be in life when one endlessly works? (In fairness to the family with whom I stayed, I should note that they went out to see fireworks that very night. They knew how to enjoy life; it was I who had the problem.)

Every once in a while, I would have one of these glimpses into the futility of life. It would bother me for a while, I would struggle with it, and then I would go on with life. If pleasures can’t satisfy, then what do we have to look forward to? If our work is pointless, then why even live? This was too stark to accept, so I never did.

These are the questions that we try to avoid and Ecclesiastes tackles head-on. Solomon (the author) first establishes the truth of the futility of life. If you haven’t figured out that your life (under the sun) is meaningless, then reading Ecclesiastes will make you depressed. But, if you’ve been confronted with that terrible truth, and you’re wondering what to do about it, Ecclesiastes is a wonderful book. Finally, someone admits that life is futile! These pleasures have no lasting satisfaction. The work of life will never be done. It’s true. You’ve got to admit it, or you’ll always be pursuing and failing.

But where do we go from there? Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 is a good summary:

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

Or, put another way, Ecclesiastes 4:5-6 says:

The fool folds his hands
and ruins himself.
Better one handful with tranquillity
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.

Don’t work too hard, because it won’t really satisfy. Don’t pursue pleasures, because they won’t satisfy. Do the work God has given you, and enjoy the pleasures He gives you. Thank God for it.

Now I like Ecclesiastes. It reassures me that I’m not missing out on something great. My lot is to work at the job God has given me, to love my wife and raise my children, and to enjoy the good health and happiness that God has granted me, for as long as He wills.

September 9, 2004 4 Comments.

4 Comments

  1. Shannon replied:

    Amen! I like Ecclesiastes- had it memorized at one point. It’s very satisfying. There is an idea out there that everyone has a personal canon….the books of the Bible that they actually spend time with. Ecclesiastes is in my personal canon for sure!

    September 9th, 2004 at 3:48 pm. Permalink.

  2. Tara replied:

    Oh, I thought that link would lead us to a picture of your glamorous looking wife. I guess your choice is better.

    September 9th, 2004 at 3:49 pm. Permalink.

  3. Shannon replied:

    Of the making of many comments there is no end, and much persusal thereof wearies the body….

    September 9th, 2004 at 3:50 pm. Permalink.

  4. Tara replied:

    Come on, Cynthia, leave a comment!

    September 12th, 2004 at 10:09 pm. Permalink.

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