Ecclesiastes Part Two Dive
IS PESSIMISM ANTI-PENTECOSTAL?
As I read Ecclesiastes, my mind is in a battle. Every word goes against my Pentecostal faith-based, ‘ensure we are super-positive’ nature. How can this be in my Bible? This guy definitely would not be on the preaching team. Yet our Bible clearly and boldly puts this man’s thoughts on display, as a model, an example. It comes in parallel with the question: why is Job in the Bible?
So, is this pessimism literature? This book that was created to voice the worst our brain can come up with, a book that was created in line with ancient Near Eastern pessimism texts. Is this anti to our faith-talk, faith-walk teachings of today? And how do we apply them as faith-filled, super-positive Pentecostals?
Now, as we found in the Snapshot videos, this is the only book of its kind in our Bible, so we need to treat it completely differently to the other texts. This is a normal example of ‘pessimism literature’ in the Ancient Near East. They all have the same feel, the same questioning of life, existence, ‘going to the very depths of our soul and dredging through the mud at the bottom’ feeling. The difference with Ecclesiastes is that our text has an inner conflict – it’s almost schizophrenic in nature. Let me allow the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary to explain:
At times the Preacher seems to be gloomy, pessimistic, a skeleton at the feast: everything comes under his lashing scorn: laughter, drink, possessions, sex, work, wisdom, riches, honour, children, even righteousness. Yet, at other points he urges that we should enjoy life that there is nothing better than to eat well, enjoy our labour, receive with gladness the riches of God gives us but be content if he gives none… The Preacher’s argument and his relationship to Israelite orthodoxy seem ambiguous. At times he appears to overthrow everything Israel stood for; at other points we see the traditional views of God as sustainer and judge of all things, who gives life to men and who may be worshipped at Israel’s focal point, the temple.
So how do we take this sporadic text, and what do we do with it? Some have over-spiritualised it to ensure that it sounds positive. Some just quote the good parts and ignore the rest so as to not cause an internal conflict within their happy, positive world. Some scholars, now hotly disputed, believe that someone came in and made this text what it is today, that these two points of view could not exist in one person. So, one person wrote the negative side and another came in and inserted the positive side to balance it out and make it more in line with the Israelite orthodoxy.
THE FIGHT OF FAITH
For me, Ecclesiastes shows the fight we live in every day. There are a couple of things I want you to notice as you journey this book: the looking and the knowing! When he is contemplating, he uses the words ‘look’ ‘observe’ ‘see’ ‘observed’ ‘saw under the sun’ and then when he gets the moment of God revelation he uses the word ‘know’. His language changes from what he is observing and what he knows, his inner faith!
Do we believe what the world around us says, what our eyes tell us or do we believe what the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and our faith tells us? We are in this very fight the second we open our eyes, and we have a choice – we can build our lives around what we see and feel or we can go to faith in God in circumstances that we don’t understand. This book shows me that faith fights in the flesh, with the inner workings of my mind and I have to say, some of them parallel my thoughts word for word! I watch people who are faithfully following God struggle financially and I watch people who have no regard for God and for His plans prosper in all they do. I understand the heart of the author of Ecclesiastes, although he is a little extreme at times!
This book gives us the choices in black and white: Do we get stuck in the working of our minds, pursuing unsatisfying pleasures, or do we remain in faith? And if we do fall down the rabbit-hole of these dark thoughts, do we stay in that place, or do we return to faith, trust, hope and the stability of God!
ECCLESIATES: THE WORKING-IT-OUT BOOK
You have to stand on what you know from the Bible, from what God has imparted to you, from the Holy Spirit when you’re eyes are screaming something negative. I don’t think Ecclesiastes is an anti-faith book, I think Ecclesiastes is an ‘inner workings of our faith’ book. I think this is like the maths workbook, with all the workings-out of the question, pages and pages of behind the scene thoughts, that present the answer – God is the answer to a life of meaning!
This book gives us reassurance that God is alright with you having thoughts, doubts, moments of explosions of negativity in our thoughts. Just don’t let it take you down the rabbit-hole so that it destroys the foundations on which your life is set. God is the foundation that will continue to bounce up and faith is the action to take when your eyes are overwhelmed with injustice, depression or hopelessness.
Ecc. 3:14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.