Here the teacher, our guide on this journey in search of meaning (and/or into the mind of a depressed person), looks at 4 big topics.
He makes thoughtful observations on each, but they all leave him numb in terms of larger significance. It’s still all meaningless.
The topics are justice, work, relationships and fame. The last particularly seems to include some wry self mockery.
He finds injustice, oppression simply appalling. He says it would be better to die, or not to be born at all, rather than experience a world that contains such evil. This verse is actually used as evidence that the real king Solomon didn’t write this book… It’s in the “…said no actual king ever” territory. It’s brief, but he is devastated.
On work, he’s a fan of what we would now call work-life balance. Laziness leads to ruin, but too much work destroys your tranquility. Indeed he seems to say working less will make life feel less meaningless – the first concession I think we’ve had to the possiblity of a somewhat satisfying life. And touching that tranquility is the opposite of meaninglessness… It’s a restless search, he’s deeply dissatisfied.
I appreciated how he said ambition springs from envy. Yesterday I confessed to mildly resenting my relative lack of career success, today a little gift/prompt from the holy spirit.
What he says about relationship highlights the question of tone. I can’t tell if he’s being rhetorical and ironic.
It’s the “two are better than one” quote often used at weddings. But it probably applies to platonic friendships too… (At least I hope so, since he moves on to three strands being stronger again… Oh Solomon!)
He says relationships are good because they make you wealthier, stronger, better able to defend yourself and warmer at night. No mention of love? We’re a long way from where st. Paul got to when he held up marital love as the closest spiritual equivalent we can comprehend of Christ’s love for the church.
Or is his omission of love deliberately leaving the elephant in the room? Is he asking “is that all there is?” or is he stating “That is all there is!” Ironic or cold? I don’t know!
On kingship, which I think also suits fame or celebrity… he tells the age old story of a star is born. The old king who’s lost touch, the new king who everyone follows. Twist: they are the same person. He switches the first person from being the old king in decline to remembering being the young king on the up and up, challenging the previous king in decline. Neatly illustrating his theme of endless, pointless cycles.
So what does it tell us of God? Nothing! To such a perverse degree that his absence is suffocating, God is the elephant in the room. It’s no accident that every human culture has reached for him. Thinking about his absence too much gets you to an aggravated, inflamed sense of cruel pointlessness that is so wrong, you ‘d rather you’d never been born.
In contrast, we gathered around a bonfire under the old old tree at church to sing and wash each other’s feet yesterday, re-enacting what God’s love is like in a human form. Intimate and unglamorous.