As we trust God, we learn to better obey Him. Obedience is hard when we realize that it may not turn out the way we want it to turn out. It is hard when we are frustrated. Obedience is hard when we do not understand God’s greater plan. Yet, we must obey Him. We recognize God will ultimately judge us and everyone else around us. In the end, nothing escapes God. All those issues that frustrate us and the people who sin against us or cause us suffering in some way, God will judge. Our position is not of judge; instead, we are to respectfully obey.
Recently Tim Challies highlighted a series of articles related to the Book of Ecclesiastes. As a long-time biblical counselor and proponent for great exegesis from particular books of the Bible, I read the articles with great anticipation. Rather than giving a clear approach to the Book of Ecclesiastes, the author challenged us to determine the emphasis. I believe this book is far too important for everyday life in Christ and, by extension, for our counseling from the Scriptures to get this wrong. Therefore, today, I am going to review the big idea of Ecclesiastes and how it can help you in daily living.
Rightly interpreted, Ecclesiastes provides both a Godward perspective and wisdom as the Christian traverses through the many pressures of life. Over the years, this has been true for my counselees and me. For instance, when our daughter Kayla died, Ecclesiastes brought great insight and comfort into my life. At her death, I was in the process of both translating the book and teaching it verse-by-verse in our adult Sunday School class.
Bottom line: if you understand Ecclesiastes, you will be blessed in your walk with God and live much less frustrated.
Three or Four Approaches to Ecclesiastes?
Challies highlighted Peter Krol’s analysis of Ecclesiastes. Krol writes, “[The Book of Ecclesiastes] offers a great case study in how perception can drastically affect both interpretation and application. This fact ought to motivate us to be as meticulous as possible in observing the text within its context.” He then presents his take on the following three ways Christians typically approach the book: 1) The cynic refers to the view that says the entire book is not commendable, nor is it even godly. 2) The hedonist approach relates to both the vanity of life and the joy of God in the midst of it. In other words, even though life is meaningless, the Christian can enjoy it. 3) The apologist primarily associates the book to an expose on worldview where half the book is true and half the book is false.
I will suggest a fourth way (or at least a very revised second view – the hedonist) to approach the Book of Ecclesiastes. Essentially, the Book explains how a Christian must respond in a world where a) God is sovereign and b) the world suffers under great depravity. Different than the hedonist view mentioned above, the Book is not about a meaningless life that God allows us to enjoy in spite of its meaninglessness. Instead, the Book describes life’s purpose under God as well as provides guidance along the path.
Understanding Hebel (vanity, meaningless, or what?)
Krol further explained in a second article that one must understand the key word hebel in order to understand the book as a whole (which I agree). He writes:
But I can say that any interpretation of the book that doesn’t frontline the “unsatisfying, endless repetition of old things…” is not using hebel the way the Preacher used hebel. For him, hebel is not really about nihilism, cynicism, or purposelessness. It’s about the tedium, transience, impermanence, and dissatisfaction God built into the universe.