Under the Sun (a survey of the book of Ecclesiastes)

Is the glass half-full or half-empty? This is the proverbial question one asks to discover whether a person in an optimist or pessimist. Life’s optimists tend to see the positive side of things; they can always find a way to put a positive spin on the events of life. The optimist’s life verse is Romans 8:28, because they know everything will work for good (even if they ignore that the “good” Paul speaks of in Romans is conformity to the image of Christ, which often requires pain and suffering). But to put it bluntly, optimists not only can be quite annoying, especially during life’s difficult times, but apart from faith in Christ, optimists have a terribly unrealistic view of humanity and of life in general. At the same time, it seems as though pessimists are not the most popular people to hang around. People steer clear of pessimists because they tend to be down-cast, and they rarely have a good word to say to anyone. However, truth be told, pure pessimism can be a more realistic way to view life than pure optimism.

Now surely, pessimism for pessimism’s sake is sinful, and much of the aversion that people have toward pessimists is due more to their carnal scornful cynicism. We ought to be able to encourage people with positive affirmations – the Scripture often does this and admonishes us to as well. But there is, at the same time, a sinful tendency on the part of human beings to ignore the realities of life that make them feel badly – people are apt to to deny life’s pain and suffering. Perhaps it’s for this reason that the book of Ecclesiastes has historically been so neglected. It is believed to be the least preached on book of the Bible, and when it is addressed there is so much confusion and disagreement among preachers and commentators as to how to approach the book. It is often viewed as a conglomerate of contradictions. Commentators assume that Qoheleth (the book’s author, often identified as Solomon, see 1:1) is a pessimistic cynic who opposes traditional Biblical wisdom. One commentator likened Qoheleth’s words to those of Job’s friends, stating that “the long autobiographical speech of Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes is not the word of God, but is contained in a book that is the word of God.” It is believed by some that Qoheleth is later “set right” by a another voice – a narrator, in 12:8-12, who reverses and corrects the previous 11½ chapters of Qoheleth’s ranting.

In a nutshell, Qoheleth’s message is: Everything in life is absurd. No matter what you do, it will come up empty, because you live and you die. The only things you have in life are what God gives you; you can’t do anything to change it, and you have God to blame for it. To Qoheleth, the sun rises and sets everyday just to rise another day. There is no sense to stop, look at, marvel and learn from the sun, because it will just be there tomorrow; and besides if you do, you might go blind. Compare this to the Psalmist who looks at the sun and learns of God’s glory (Ps 8 and 19); he sees the sun like a bridegroom, as it runs its course like a strong man with joy (Ps 19:5). Commentators have sought to harmonize Ecclesiastes’ contradictions in order to try to make them make sense in light of the rest of Biblical wisdom literature. But in this sermon series, this preacher is going to take the view that Qoheleth’s take on life is quite honest and thoroughly orthodox; that nothing he says contradicts anything in the Bible; and that his words, while provocative are indeed right – everything around us is dying! This is exactly what we learn from the first few chapters of the book of Genesis, is it not? If all this is true, then the appalling implication that “nothing matters under the sun,” is also true. This challenges the self-confident, godless, optimist to take off his rose-colored glasses with which he trusts in human justice and integrity. In this way Qoheleth’s realism drives us to life’s only place of recourse – God; and it is from this point then that we are in a place to hear the Gospel, and then everything matters under the sun.


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