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the realism of Ecclesiastes

10-10-2011 - Posted by Andre Piet

What advantage has a human in all his toil, Which he toils under the sun? Ecclesiastes 1:3

The book of Ecclesiastes (Kolhelet) is one of my favorite books in the Bible. The tone which the writer strikes is often very cynical, but his message is, consequently, the more realistic. In my opinion, without this wisdom one cannot successfully cope with life, here, “under the sun”. People like to say, “always look on the bright side of life”, but that may awaken an expectation that this earthly existence is supposed to be nothing but fun and pleasure. In Psalm 90 (verse 10) we read that even the best days of our years, are but trouble and sorrow. That is, even the best times in our lives are not free from the shadows of real distress. This is true, even if others do not have the slightest notion of it. This may sound depressing, but, in reality, it is not. Because when you assume and know in advance that our existence here is subject to vanity, you will not have unrealistic expectations. It will protect you against unnecessary frustrations and setbacks. Are it not precisely the idealists and optimists who fall prey to apathy and disappointment, when they eventually find their dreams running afoul on the harsh realities of life? Kolhelet notes that all the toil of man delivers no advantage, that is, no benefits in terms of net profit. Using a variant of Johan Cruijff: every advantage has its disadvantage. Everything man invents and develops also shows, time and again, to have negative side effects that cancel net benefits. Take, for example, the development of the car. Undoubtedly a great invention with many advantages! But compare this also with all the disadvantages it brought along: traffic deaths, a more stressful and hectic life, environment pollution, etc., etc. Where are the net profits, when we weigh the pros and cons against each other? Well, that’s exactly what vanity is: nothing, zero, empty. Paul writes:

For to vanity was the creation subjected, not voluntarily, but because of HIM Who subjects it… Roman 8:20

Although this existence is all vanity, nevertheless, nothing goes ever wrong and everything unfolds according to plan. Moreover, Paul continues:

in expectation, that the creation itself, also, shall be freed from the slavery of corruption …. Romans 8:21

Such a vision of life cannot be shattered! It gives, on the one hand, the power to cope with the struggles we encounter, and on the other hand, it enables us to see all of life in perspective of the big ‘picture’: the entire creation will be liberated! ——————————— translation: Peter Feddema