Crash Course In Ecclesiastes

It’s always puzzled me why so many people think of Ecclesiastes as depressing. For me as a teenager, it provided a map for navigating my way out of depression. Of course, I’m not saying it’s a magic cure for mental illness, but if you’re struggling with questions about the meaning of life or frustrated with how pointless it all seems, this book can provide a great deal of hope.

The book of Ecclesiastes contains the reflections of a deep thinker who works through an existential crisis. This sort of crisis happens when an individual starts to question whether their life (or life in general) has any purpose, meaning, or value. Solomon wrestled with these questions and records his thoughts for us to learn, as he did, that true meaning and purpose can only be found in God.

Ecclesiastes is one of those books that it’s not a good idea to read isolated pieces from. That’s one way you end up thinking there are few spiritual lessons in this book or misinterpreting its message. The whole thing is interconnected, with layers of thoughts building on each other as Solomon goes back and forth asking questions and contemplating possible answers. It’s vital that we look at this piece of writing as a whole before we start to dive deep into individual passages.

Cycles of Futility …

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2 ,WEB). Thus the book of Ecclesiastes opens, and Solomon will repeat this phrase throughout and in the conclusion (Ecc. 12:8). He presents everything in life as vanity, or hebel (H1892) — a vapor/breath; a transitory or unsatisfactory thing. That might seem like a depressing outlook, but can you really look at the world and say he’s wrong? Do things of this life last? Do they make sense? Is this world satisfying? Not on its own. Read more

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Letting Death Give Us Perspective On Life

Ecclesiastes records the reflections of a deep thinker who works through an existential crisis and concludes meaning can only be found in God. While many people find this book depressing, I think taken as a whole it offers a remarkably hopeful perspective that can actually help us work through the sort of questions that were weighing on the author (most likely Solomon’s) mind.

When I recently went back to studying Ecclesiastes, I had this grand vision that I would write a post about the entire book (similar to “Crash Course in Romans”) in less than a week and post it today. I’m currently laughing at myself for thinking that was an attainable goal. Instead, we’re just going to talk about a handful of verses in the middle of the book that have captured my attention, and save the Crash Course in Ecclesiastes for next week.

The Vanity of Everything

Like Romans, Ecclesiastes is hard to understand if you take bits and pieces out of context, so before we get to the verses that I want to focus on today we need to take a quick look at what came before.

Solomon had shown the vanity of pleasure, gaiety, and fine works, of honour, power, and royal dignity … [and] there is as much vanity in great riches (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Ecc. 5:9-17)

He has also been questioning the meaning of life. If all the things that people pursue on earth are meaningless, then what is there for us? Several times he argues that there is “nothing better” for men than to rejoice in this physical life (Ecc. 2:24; 3:13, 22; 5:18). But that’s still not a satisfactory answer for him. He wants more, something to explain why we should keep trying and what’s the purpose in living.

For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he spends like a shadow? For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun? (Ecc. 6:12, WEB)

A Different Perspective on Death

Up until this point, there has been a, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we will die” theme running through Ecclesiastes (Is. 22:12-13). It seems that in Solomon’s mind at this time, death was the point at which hope falls apart. Sure you can enjoy this life, but it’s all emptiness because you still end up dead with no guarantee that you have anything to show for it. Now, though, Solomon suggests that we can use death to give us perspective on life.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men, and the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the face the heart is made good. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Ecc. 7:2-4, WEB)

We must not forget that there is “a time to be born, and a time to die … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecc. 3:2, 4, WEB). There’s nothing wrong with feasting and laughter in its proper time, but staying there makes your heart foolish. Wise men keep their ends in mind. Death reminds us that we only have so much time to decide how we’re going to live our lives and what we’ll be remembered for.

Letting Death Give Us Perspective On Life | LikeAnAnchor.com
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The End Is Better

We just talked about verses 2-4 in chapter 7. Now let’s go back to verse 1:

A good name is better than fine perfume; and the day of death better than the day of one’s birth. (Ecc. 7:1, WEB)

There is much value in a good life well-lived. Solomon has already concluded that “wisdom excels folly, as far as light excels darkness” (Ecc. 2:13, WEB). Here he reinforces that a good name — that is “a name for wisdom and goodness with those that are wise and good”(MHC on Ecc. 7:1-6) — is worth more than all the pleasures, wealth, etc. that he’d found so empty.

if we have lived so as to merit a good name, the day of our death, which will put a period to our cares, and toils, and sorrows, and remove us to rest, and joy, and eternal satisfaction, is better than the day of our birth, which ushered us into a world of so much sin and trouble, vanity and vexation. We were born to uncertainty, but a good man does not die at uncertainty. (MHC on Ecc. 7:1-6).

Death is not the end of the story, and for a man who considers his death and prepares for it (as Solomon goes on to say in the next verses, which we’ve already talked about) he has the opportunity to die with “a good name.” The word for “name” here is shem (H8034), and in the Hebrew concept it’s always connected with your reputation and character.

Those who die having a good reputation and a good character are no longer subject to the evils of this present life and await their resurrection to a much better life in the future. That gives those of us left behind great hope even in the midst of sorrow (1 Thes. 4:13-14).

Backing Into The Future

Letting Death Give Us Perspective On Life | LikeAnAnchor.com
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The idea that the day of our death is better than the day of birth can be a hard one for people to come to grips with, even given the context we just talked about. We still grieve at death even though we know (as Solomon also concludes by the end of this book) that “the spirit returns to God who gave it” and that He will raise believers up in the last day (Ecc. 12:7; John 6:40). But maybe another verse in this section of Ecclesiastes can provide further explanation.

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning. (Ecc. 7:8, WEB)

The Hebrew word for “end” is achariyth (H319). To understand achariyth, we have to understand that the Hebrew concept of time is like “the view a man has when he is rowing a boat. He sees where he has been and backs into the future” (H.W. Wolff quoted in TWOT entry 68e). That’s why this word translated “end” can also mean last/latter days, after part, future, or reward. The end of a thing is better than the beginning because you will have arrived at the future goal and can now look back on where you’ve been with a better perspective.

If you’d rather not think about death then the idea that the end is better than the beginning can be a depressing one because it forces you to confront something uncomfortable. But ignoring the idea of our lives ending is foolish. Everyone is going to die whether we think about it or not, so why not use the fact that our lives will end as motivation to make the life we have a good one?

 

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When Heroes Can’t Save Themselves: Death and Loss in Infinity War

Even if you haven’t yet seen Avengers: Infinity War you’ve probably picked up on the vibe that not everything ends happy. Well before the film’s release there were charts out detailing which characters were safe, which ones in danger, and which ones we definitely expected to die. Even my cousin, who’s outside the MCU Fandom, wanted to see it because she had to find out who lived and who died.

Warning: Mild Spoilers Follow For Avengers: Infinity War

When Heroes Can't Save Themselves: Death and Loss in Infinity War | marissabaker.wordpress.comWhile the film has been well received overall, some are describing the deaths that do happen (and in some cases the whole movie) as pointless because we “know” pretty much how this is going to go. Coulson and Loki have already come back from death scenes in the MCU. It’s something we expect from the genre. And some of the characters that died at the end have sequel movies that are filming right now. We assume they won’t stay dead, and so might conclude that their deaths don’t matter.

It’s also been quite a shock to see earth’s and the galaxy’s mightiest heroes lose such an important battle. This isn’t the end of the story, since a sequel film is coming in May 2018, but the only one who gets a happy ending in this film is Thanos. This isn’t just the Empire scattered the rebellion and Han Solo is frozen in carbonite. This is Darth Vader got exactly what he wanted and retired to Mustafar to spend the rest of his life watching lava bubble.

Second Warning: Major Spoilers Follow For Avengers: Infinity War

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Even If You Don’t: Holding On To Hope In Dark Times

We know God can do anything. So how do you react when He doesn’t do something that you beg him to? When your loved one isn’t healed? When your heartbreak feels unbearable and then something else piles on top of that? When you just don’t know how to go on, yet you have to anyway?

I’ve been going through a rough patch emotionally, especially over the past few weeks but really for a few months now. And I feel like God has thrown me some songs as “lifelines” in this time. First it was “I Am Not Alone” by Kari Jobe and more recently it was “Even If” by MercyMe.

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

I didn’t much want to sing this when it popped into my head. Actually, I couldn’t at first since all I remembered was the “But even if you don’t” line. But I looked the song up, grasping for some hope to anchor my soul, and after playing through it a few times I could breath and pray again. I’ll admit, though, that there was still a part of me crying out, “Why?” when I thought about Him choosing not to take away the sorrow and hurt. And it’s okay to do that. As my counselor said, God is big enough to handle it when His kids are frustrated with Him.

Hope is one of the key things that gets us through the times when we’re frustrated with God and don’t understand what He’s doing. And it’s something I don’t think we talk about enough. Paul tells us “faith, hope and love remain”  (1 Cor. 13:13, WEB). They’re all three virtues that aren’t going away, but we talk about faith and love a whole lot more than hope. Which is a shame, because hope is something that’s very much needed in this world. Read more

The Foundation: Eternal Judgement

We’re wrapping up our series on the foundational principles of Hebrews 6 today. “Eternal judgement” is the final point the writer of Hebrews lists as a “principle of the doctrine of Christ.”

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)

The Foundation: Eternal Judgement| marissabaker.wordpress.com

There’s a good reason why Christians have to live lives of obedience and service to God. We will give account of ourselves at the end, and receive a judgement whether we were good or evil.

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The Foundation: Resurrection of the Dead

In the past weeks, we’ve studied four of the six foundational doctrines listed in the opening verses of Hebrews 6.

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)

The Foundation: Resurrection of the Dead| marissabaker.wordpress.com

The resurrection of the dead is an event still in the future for everyone but Jesus, but it’s essential to our present hope. Believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is a core doctrine of Christianity, and it leads into the core doctrine that believers will also rise from the dead. Read more