Bible Studies for Life Lesson for January 3- Wrestling with the Meaning of Life
December 23 2009 by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association

Focal Passages: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; 12:13-14

In 1514, German Renaissance painter, Albrecht Durer, produced one of his most famous engravings, Melancholia. This work of art, though extensively interpreted, is a picture of the state of melancholy. One sees the figure of an angel, gazing, sitting heavy with head weighing on his left hand. Around the figure are evidences of wealth, wisdom, and “on the horizon the splendour of a landscape composed of water, mountain, city, and forest” (Jean-Luc Marion).

It appears that all that could satisfy and complete is lost in the hollow gaze toward a vanishing point that cannot be grasped. Many feel that perhaps Melancholia is Durer’s spiritual self-portrait. Regardless, it is a picture of one saturated with the resources and experiences of this life, yet always gazing beyond to that ungraspable something that lies beyond the horizon.

And so observes also Qoheleth (which is the Hebrew name used coming from a word meaning to assemble or gather), or the Preacher (1:1). Like Durer’s figure, this individual saturated with all that life offers and all that can be obtained, gazes out onto his kingdom and can not see what truly satisfies or completes — “Vanity of vanities! Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”

That is, like a vapor, breath, or a condensation, all is absolute aimlessness, emptiness, and transitoriness. The constant repeating of the term vanity emphasizes the superlative degree of that condition. Further, note the superlative effect of this vanity upon reality: “All! Vanity! (there is no verb in the Hebrew text),” “all his labor” (1:3), “all things are full of weariness” (1:8 RSV). “The world for him is suspended by the breath of vanity” (Marion).

The remainder of the text (and book) paints a picture of monotony and purposelessness. The wheel of time and process turns, but in the end nothing has changed or novelty is a whisper of steam on a windy day. He states, “Whatever has happened is what will occur, and whatever has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9 RSV).

One senses an air of disillusionment and despair in the midst of great wealth and success. But, is that the end of the story?  Echoing Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, Second century BC Jewish writer, Ben Sirach, writes, “Though we speak much we cannot reach the end, and the sum of our words is: ‘He is all’” (Sirach 43:27).

Thus, the end of the story is God — “Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is everything for humankind” (Norbert Lohfink). That is, when we know the Lord, we come to know ourselves; when we believe God, the very riches of the treasures of God, humankind and the world are opened up (Walter Kaiser Jr.).  
12/23/2009 1:58:00 PM by John Pond, Director of Missions, West Chowan Baptist Association | with 0 comments

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