Day 27 Ecclesiastes 3 ... Dangling

People surprised to find a book like Song of Songs in the Bible may be knocked flat by the book of Ecclesiastes. "Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!" cries the author of this bleak capitulation of despair. At first, its message and tone may seem more appropriate for a modern book of grim existentialism.

Although Ecclesiastes mentions no author by name, it contains broad hints that King Solomon was, if not its author, then at least its inspiration. It tells the story of the richest, wisest, most famous man in the world, who follows every pleasure impulse as far as it can lead him. This man, "the Teacher," finally collapses in regret and despair; he has squandered his life.

Because of the mood swings in Ecclesiastes, the book must be read as a whole to grasp its full meaning. But this early chapter gives a capsule summary, beginning with an elegant poem about Time - words made famous in a folk song in the 1960s - and proceeding from there into musings about life typical of the Teacher's search for meaning.

God has laid a "burden" on humanity, the author concludes: a burden that keeps us from finding ultimate satisfaction on earth. After a lifetime spent in the pursuit of pleasure, the Teacher was driven to ask, "Is that all there is?" Even the rare moments of peace and satisfaction he had found were easily spoiled by the onrushing threat of death. According to the Teacher, life doesn't make sense outside of God and will, in fact, never fully make sense because we are not God.

But God has also "set eternity in the hearts of men." We feel longings for something more; pleasures that will last forever; love that won't go sour; fulfillment, not boredom, from our work.

The teacher thus dangles between two states, feeling a steady drag toward despair but also a tug toward something higher. Much like a personal journal, the book of Ecclesiastes records his search for balance. The tension does not resolve in this chapter, and some readers wonder if it resolves at all. But Ecclesiastes ends with one final word of advice, the summation of all the Teacher's wisdom: "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (12:13).

Point to Ponder: :The Teacher is painfully honest about his doubts and his despair. What portions of this chapter did you especially identify with?