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Ecclesiastes: A Book About Life?

Ecclesiastes is one of the most interesting books in Holy Scripture. It finds its place in scripture’s wisdom books. The pseudonym for its author is “teacher” or “preacher. Tradition says that Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, since the author is described as a son of David and king of Jerusalem. Because the author reflects on the life he has lived in a self-critical way (wishing he had done things differently), it is believed that the author wrote Ecclesiastes late in life.

That’s something I can relate to. After most of one’s life has been lived, there is a tendency to realize mistakes of the past and, in the wisdom of old age, advise those who will listen of a better way to live. In Ecclesiastes, a king who had everything comes to realize the life he lived was vain, futile, meaningless. Wisdom, the teacher says, is the means to a well-lived life, one largely filled with simplicity.

Let’s wade through Ecclesiastes, looking for wisdom and a meaningful life–with the continuous refrain of the teacher that “Everything is meaningless.” Does he really mean that, or is he saying that the things humans get caught up in are meaningless in the hindsight of someone who has grown old?

Why does the teacher say that “Everything is meaningless?”

What do we really gain from our work, he says. Generations come and go, and they work. Both generations and their work are forgotten. Things stay pretty much the same, no matter what we do. There’s nothing new under the sun. If we try to figure out what’s going on around us, we’re chasing the wind.

Toward the end of chapter one, the teacher says that during his life, he’s gained a lot of wisdom. But after thinking about it, he says this: “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18, NIV)

Is life really such a bummer? Let’w hear the teacher out–with an open mind and a desire for truth.

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