This book of Ecclesiastes continues to be quite relevant to us living now in the 21st century. Songs, themes, and expressions have been extricated from this material, many failing to plumb the depths of its meaning as it accurately depicts a detailed study of life.
Ecclesiastes begins with a skeptical outlook on life and, if it were to end shortly thereafter, it would be a recipe for deep depression with a heavy dose of cynicism. However, that is not the end of the story and a full, reflective reading will reveal many important lessons about life.
Ernest Hemingway, perhaps America’s greatest novelist, scratched the surface of Ecclesiastes and came away with the title of what some consider his finest novel, The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway’s prodigious talent as an author, his spare writing style, and his willingness to use real people and places earned him distinction as a writer while no doubt costing him many friendships, as he was known to engage in fights and infidelity. A dark shadow emerges in both this novel and, through extension, the world- view that shaped the way in which Hemingway lived his life. The book dances between the realities of pleasure and pain, and is set against the backdrop of Spain, bullfighting, and the “Lost Generation.” Though wonderfully written, it portrays the disturbing worldview that life has no meaning.
Hemingway got half of the portion of Ecclesiastes right as the pen of Solomon, guided by inspiration from God, deftly draws us into what begins as a dark mood. We must wonder that if the writer of Ecclesiastes has all things material and, yet, cannot find contentment, meaning, and purpose, then how can we? This message is particularly meaningful for us who are bred in a material possession-oriented culture.
One wonders if Hemingway would have gotten the other half right had taken the time to swallow the entire concept of what King Solomon was moving toward. If so, he might not have walked lockstep with his false bravado and fraudulent nihilism into suicide at age 61. His is a cautionary tale and one that our generation should take seriously. Life lived without God is a life that is truly vain, utterly bankrupt, and by definition an incomparable loss.
In the end Solomon does not paint a bleak picture of this life, but neither does he trivialize or marginalize it. We are God’s creation, His handiwork, and because of this, we can find peace and fulfillment even in the little details of life that matter most to Him who made us. Ecclesiastes is a good read that continues to gather us to greater understanding as the experiences of our lives continue to accumulate and we begin to truly digest that without God all truly is vain, a chasing after the wind.