Wednesday, 10 October 2012

THE THINKER: Ecclesiastes & the Humility of Humankind

Ecclesiastes has been called one of the strangest books in the Bible.  For many Christians and Jews it is a difficult book to place.  Attributed to King Solomon, the book initially appears pessimistic; its author approaches his understanding of the world from what seems a fatalistic point of view.  He employs reason and logic to trace out a worldview that does not shy away from the kinds of existence questions that agnostics and atheists grapple with aggressively.  In this way, its philosophical nature seems to diverge from the more traditional books that surround it. 

The King James’ version of the book is considered by many as the greatest example of prose ever written in the English language.  Calling it that great book Ernest Hemingway claimed that “he read it aloud to all who would listen” (89).  Throughout the ages, for both its content and lyricism, Ecclesiastes has inspired.

One of its most intriguing passages examines humankind’s place in the universe:

                        I also thought, “As for men, God tests them so that they
                        may see that they are like the animals.  Man’s fate is like
                        that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As
                        one dies, so dies the other.  All have the same breath; a
                        man has no advantage over the animal…All go to the same
                        place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.  Who knows
                        if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal
                        down into the earth?”
                                                                                    (Eccl., 3: 18-22)
This passage follows the Preacher’s continued observations made under the sun, where the writer essentially asks questions that have never ceased to be asked:  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why does God allow it?  The questions themselves, the Preacher admits, can never be definitively answered for the human mind cannot truly fathom God, but he does provide a tantalizing suggestion:  “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals” (Eccl., 3:18).

"I am sorry, but you'll just have to take your turn behind the slug and the beetle!"

The Holy Bible: New International Version.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.

Hemingway, Ernest.  Ernest Hemingway on Writing.  Ed. Larry W. Phillips. 
       New York: Simon & Shuster,1999.

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