“Read More” to pursue answers in Ecclesiastes.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.
So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of [such as were] oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors [there was] power; but they had no comforter.
I wonder if this is the rejoinder to his (fleeting?) thought that the best we could/should hope for is to enjoy our daily labor and our life “under the sun.” That might be good advice in a fair universe, but what about those who are suffering with no hope of escape?
Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better [is he] than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
Ouch! It is hard to get much bleaker than that. What’s even bleaker is the possibility that this sentiment is not merely due to a moment’s depression, but the ripping away of a comfortable veil of illusion. If that’s really the way things are, then what (if anything) is worth striving for?
Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This [is] also vanity and vexation of spirit.
Though, to be sure, not striving is also its own punishment:
The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.
So, maybe the only rational response to worldly injustice is to be grateful for what we do have:
Better [is] an handful [with] quietness, than both the hands full [with] travail and vexation of spirit.
This seems especially true of someone who is working only for himself:
There is one [alone], and [there is] not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet [is there] no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither [saith he], For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This [is] also vanity, yea, it [is] a sore travail.
Perhaps the lesson here is that contentment is not an excuse to avoid self-reflection! More probably, though, he is emphasizing that work itself isn’t sufficient to be content — if you are alone:
Two [are] better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him [that is] alone when he falleth; for [he hath] not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm [alone]? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
To love, and taking care of those you love by doing what you love — I’d tend to agree that there is no higher joy.
Though, again, even that isn’t good if you lack the wisdom to keep it:
Better [is] a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also [he that is] born in his kingdom becometh poor.
Better to have little and be able to improve on it than have much and lose it. But even that victory is temporary:
I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead. [There is] no end of all the people, [even] of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also [is] vanity and vexation of spirit.
Is it just me, or is he going in circles? First he says that nothing matters, then he says that only this matters, but then he says that other thing is better.
Maybe the point is that he really doesn’t have a coherent thesis; he’s just recording various observations as he goes along, whether or not they all fit together. Even if he himself isn’t sure whether any of it matters.
Huh. Kinda like this blog. 🙂
God, I confess that Ecclesiastes — like like itself! — often doesn’t make sense to me. I catch glimpses of truth, but I don’t know whether they really mean anything. So much of what I think I know is but smoke and mirrors, a striving after the wind. Father, ground me in those things that are good and right and true, that I may only spend myself on those things that endure. For love and your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.