Late in September Jews celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. They erect tents in their garden and inside they eat their meals and remember the time their ancestors were in the Sinai desert. During that ceremony a leader stands among them and reads the whole book of Ecclesiastes aloud. It is a reminder against depending on their success and prosperity. Maybe if we did this it would keep us in touch with reality.
When it seems that our faith has become stale, that the beliefs we cling to no longer seem to satisfy us, when we feel boredom, depression, despair or apathy, we may feel tempted by a happy face spirituality that promises health and prosperity. Or we may feel we ought to go to the other extreme, of denying ourselves the pleasures of life, like food, drink and relaxation. Ecclesiastes shows us realism that helps us hold firm to eternity in our hearts whilst we bear the burden of the gods on our shoulders.
Ecclesiastes is a reminder of reality but is not the whole picture. It contains nothing of God’s covenant promises, the miracle stories of his intervention or of his ultimate deliverance. The Teacher’s vision is limited to what he sees around him. But he does conclude with a warning. It seems as though this old man, who has sought the answers to the puzzle of life, now sighs, and concludes: Only one thing is worthwhile, in the midst of this meaningless world, remember your Creator. To believe in God, means to see that life has a meaning, beyond the merely physical and material world around us. We do well to remember the words of the 17th century philosopher, Blaise Pascal who said, “If I believe in God and life after death and you do not, and if there is no God, we both lose when we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything.” I think the Teacher would agree.
The cry at the end of the book is the last word of a person who spent his life in the futile pursuit of happiness but in the end takes the leap of faith to believe that God is the final answer and that life will make sense one day. His conclusion: Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.
Remember Derek & Joanna, and Doreen in your prayers,