Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ecclesiastes

I'm trying to stay out of your discussion threads, trying in fact to stay off the Internet entirely on the weekends (not a bad goal for us all, to get all our questions/comments/links posted before each Sunday)... but the chapter-&-verse of Ecclesiastes someone posted caught my eye and I can't resist a little comment.

I was surprised to see folks seeming to invoke that book to support the notion that happiness on earth is a fool's mission, that all is vanity here and can only be reversed after death, in the hereafter.

I must say: it saddens me to hear young people so eagerly renouncing the possibility of their earthly happiness. My view: the bluebird of happiness awaits you here and now, kids, don't let him fly away. (You know what they say about a bird in the hand.)

Anyway, that must be the Good News version of Ecclesiastes. Jennifer Hecht offers quite a different perspective.
Koheleth brushed aside the dream of an afterlife with a simple appeal to reason--Who knows this?--and the conclusion that humans have nothing above the beasts in this regard...
But it doesn't follow that simple happiness is unavailable in this life. The recipe's pretty simple.
Love your spouse. Get some work to do, do it with all your might; enjoy the simple 
pleasures of food, drink, and love. Everything else is vanity. 

3 comments:

  1. If I may, I believe respectfully you've missed part of the Preacher's point. With the exception of the last chapter, the entire book of Ecclesiastes is all about dealing with things "under the sun." Nine verses before the one originally mentioned--that is, 2:17, 20--, the Preacher deals with why he despairs of his labor: "[17]Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. ... [20]Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun." Previous to this, the Preacher related how he acquired property, servants, and other kinds of wealth, all because he could legitimately enjoy it; essentially, it was pleasureful. Note that all these things have to do with what is on earth. The problem is not with whether or not physical things provide pleasure; the answer to that is obvious. The question is whether or not they provide true happiness.

    When people seek happiness, what they really seek is security, longevity, memory, as explained in 2:16: "For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As the fool!" The one who works hard and accumulates wisdom, then, has no greater immortality than does the one who sits by and does nothing. Can we gain security through earthly things? No, for they do not protect us from death.

    Ultimately, that is what every person desires: protection from death. The message of Ecclesiastes, then, is that no amount of earthly pleasure can achieve the end desired: immortality. Are the things you mentioned and the things the Preacher mentions inherently bad things? Of course not. However, they can't protect us from bodily death. The only way to achieve that is to trust in the sovereign strength of God. After all, if we can't achieve immortality through our own machinations, we must rely upon someone who can grant it to us. That's God, and that's the message of Ecclesiastes: "...fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man's all." (Eccl. 12:13.) Man does not sustain himself for eternity; only God can do that. And if happiness is eternal, then only God can give happiness.

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  2. Well, I continue to believe with Santayana: "There is no cure for life and death, save to enjoy the interval."

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  3. Why do you believe that, if I may ask?

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