My favorite book in the Bible is Ecclesiastes. Many people will think that is peculiar. Perhaps my attraction to that particular section of the Bible has something to do with my personality, or perhaps it’s due to the out-of-placeness and genuine weirdness of the book. Of all the books of the Bible, it seems to be hardest (next to Revelation) for people to make sense of. It is rarely a book people will approach when they need comfort.
But the book of Ecclesiastes is actually very useful for putting life in perspective, and for handling crisis. The book of Ecclesiastes faces some of the biggest questions that people have: does my life really have any purpose? Why am I here? What should I be doing? The author of Ecclesiastes is a long philosophical essay. The author builds his argument, step by step, leading toward his inevitable conclusion. To make sense of it, Ecclesiastes must be read as a whole. Of all the books of the Bible, it is perhaps the easiest to miss its point and to take statements from it out of context and run in the wrong direction.
The author’s purpose in Ecclesiastes is relatively straightforward: he wants to discover, by way of experiment, what the purpose of a human life might be. His presupposition is that all we know of the workings of the universe comes from our own efforts, experience and learning. He assumes that God is silent and inscrutablee.
The author’s conclusion, when all is said and done, is that God is powerful, he does what as he pleases, and it’s impossible for any human being to figure out what he expects from us, since good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people. Therefore, the only rational response for a human being to this life is to have a healthy fear of this God and to attempt to act with as much wisdom as possible. The author of Ecclesiastes believes that wisdom may improve one’s chances of a happy life, but there are no guarantees. In the end, no matter what you do, whether you’re good or bad, wise or foolish, God is going to get you: you will die. Life, when all has been examined, is essentially absurd and futile.
Ecclesiastes takes a very existential view of life.
However, Ecclesiastes is true only as far as it goes, and only given the author’s pressupositions: if God has never talked to people and told them what he wants and what he thinks about them, then life is absurd and ultimately meaningless. But if that presupposition isn’t right, then the essay’s conclusion will be different. What Ecclesiastes does, therefore, is demonstrate the importance of God’s self-disclosure, his revelation to the human race through scripture and Jesus Christ. If all we knew of God was through what theologians call general or natural revelation (as described in Psalm 14: the heaven’s declare the glory of God), our understanding of God could never be more than what the author of Ecclesiastes presents. We’d never know for sure that God loves us and we’d never know what he wants, or what his plans for us might be. Ecclesiastes is a biblical argument for the need of the Bible.