So, as my wife and I have a habit of doing we were talking today about Qohelet (we have a habit of talking – Qohelet just happened to be the topic of the moment). Specifically some of my recent thoughts (Link opens in new window) on Qohelet. I was pointing out that although I can understand portions of what Qohelet has to say, at other times he confuses me greatly. Take the following from 2.15:
Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity.
Vain to be wise? My other friend, the father from Proverbs, just spat out his coffee and is quickly wiping his beard while sputtering a thousand profanities that I have no hope of keeping up with. I think the first thing that the father would say is, “You’re not wise, stupid naive Qohelet, a wise person stays as far away from the path of folly as he can, you’ve gone and investigated it!” I’d really love to agree with Proverbs on this one, but I want to give Qohelet his chance, afterall, I do agree with his assessment of life. Yet here I am, left torn and wondering (or perhaps wandering). I agree, I really do, with Qohelet’s assessment on life. Yet, can I possibly agree that wisdom is vain? Mandy suggested that I can, as long as I remember that all Qohelet had was Sheol, and I have Jesus. To which my immediate reply was, “But we have no comparable book in the Christian Scriptures to help me see what reality is like.” In hindsight, I think that perhaps one book in the Bible is enough. Life is too depressing.
Even if I admit and embrace the fact that I know more than Qohelet (at least as far as progressive revelation goes), I am still left with a not too pleased Israelite staring down my friend Qohelet. Proverbs can’t abide what it no doubt sees as foolishness on Qohelet’s point-of-view. I’m sure the father would think Qohelet’s entire study is tainted because he wants to examine folly. On the other hand, perhaps not. After all 7.26 seems very much to agree with the father (and Lady Wisdom even!) to me. Perhaps this is the theological diversity to which Peter Enns refers?
Perhaps Qohelet is simply beyond me. I agree with him whole-heartedly when we speak of the reality of life. The righteous person dies, and so does wicked. I may never fully understand 7.16-17, but I do know that fearing God is the beginning of wisdom (which causes me to wonder at verse 18’s conclusion…but alas, that is another entry altogether). I think I would simply like to point out one other voice in the already cluttered space of my office desk – Asaph, in Psalm 73.
He seems to go a step further than Qohelet in the first half of this Psalm, declaring that he was actually envious of the wicked (I never get this from Qohelet, at…er…”worst”(?) he sees the righteous and the wicked as ==). Yet in verse 16 and 17 the tables turn. Asaph, like Qohelet(!), finds trying to understand the prosperity of the wicked a wearisome task, yet Asaph goes into the temple and sees Adonai, at this point he is rejuvenated and he “understands” that they perish. In this he switches from a view similar to Qohelet and plops himself down in the easy chair closest to the father from Proverbs (who, incidently, really needs a name badly – Ha’av is fairly basic, but unless someone has something better, that’s what I’m going with). Perhaps I have simply not found myself flat on my back enough. But it seems to me that verse 19 could be applied to the righteous as well. I think Qohelet agrees with me, at least he’s muttering something about “the same end” and “senselessness.”
To wrap up, I return to where I concluded my last conversation with Qohelet. There I said that I thought Qohelet’s basic point was, enjoy the doing. I still think that he is getting at that. He says again and again, “eat, drink, be happy.” Because tomorrow an anvil might fall on your head (Anvil falling on someones head trademark Warner Brothers (TM) ). Yes, perhaps this is a bit too simplistic since it makes me nervous when applied to wisdom. I think Ha’av wants me to listen to him, and more importantly Lady Wisdom, no matter how bored I am, or how much I’d rather be eating. Asaph would perhaps encourage me to worship God. Then….then there is my friend Paul who tells me,
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18
Given, we could say that being “thankful” isn’t the same as “enjoying,” but, honestly – How many times have you been thankful for something you really hated, or even just strongly disliked. Oh sure, in hindsight…but at that moment? Ha! Go ahead, rejoice.
I leave with this thought, enjoy the doing – but there’s more there than that. At least, there is if I want to read more than Qohelet. Yet perhaps Paul’s admonishment to rejoice always will help me with enjoying even those things that I dislike if they help me know Adonai more. Even if that is outside of Qohelet’s thoughts on the matter.