“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless.” Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly.
The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep. But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.
That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. (Ecclesiastes, 12:8-14, NLT)
Over the past several weeks we’ve casually walked through Ecclesiastes and have examined several themes that are both timeless and timely. Some of those broad strokes of the brush include reflections on our limited “under the sun” perspective, the value of wisdom, and the frustration we may feel at life’s injustices and unpredictable nature. In addition, we have seen how life can appear absurd as we mark time through work and repetitive activity, which is ultimately leveled by death.
The epilogue of the book, however, brings the reader to an encouraging end without diminishing life’s realities. Qoheleth’s words, for what they are, are not the final word on your existence as a child of God. He has portrayed himself as a teacher who has done his preparation before speaking, as any good teacher would. Notice the words listened, studying, and classifying as a part of his investigation. Good teachers do their homework before they assign homework. He not only discovered what he should say, but discerned how he should say it with clarity.
He acknowledged that truth can be painful. Using the pastoral imagery of shepherding, he admits that though truth can be painful, it is necessary to move us forward. While we don’t know everything, we know enough to take the next step. Waiting for further revelation is nothing more than procrastination. We cannot permit the pain of life to debilitate us. We have to find a way to keep moving forward, despite the pain we have experienced. Therefore, the final verdict is simple: fear God and obey his commands, with full knowledge of what life is and is not.
Pete Enns has commented that he believes the ultimate point of this great book is for us to keep moving forward, no matter what. He writes, “Whatever we are going through, however we see the world around us–even if we come to the point of blaming God for the whole mess–the final biblical answer is to push forward. And we do so not by ignoring or whitewashing the pain. We are not to play make-believe that everything is okay and real people of faith should not be going through this. To the contrary, the admonition to keep moving forward has teeth only because of the pain. It is only by moving through the pain that ‘fear God and keep his commandments, anyway,’ can take hold of us at our deepest distress. It is easy to believe, easy to act the way you do, when things are going well. But when they are not, that is where the real growth happens. And like a garden plant, we cannot grow tall unless are roots are deep in the manure.”
“No, Ecclesiastes does not sound the note as clearly as does the gospel, but the tone is evident nonetheless…He is never more our God than when he bids us to follow, even when we have every reason not to. And we are never more his servants than when we obey–regardless.” (Enns, 2011, p. 219)
Thank you for taking the time to follow these weekly posts. I hope that you have found them helpful. If you missed one or more, you can go to the search feature of my website and find them by searching on the word, “Ecclesiastes.” Next week I’ll begin a new series from the book of James.