When I was in high school, I fancied myself an intellectual by reading (skimming, really) the existentialist authors of the day, John Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. At the wise age of 17, I pondered the big questions of life and spirituality and soon it was clear I had it all figured out. I began writing my bestselling memoir that would naturally lead to a book tour. The only relevant question was what would I wear to my appearance on the Today Show. But the following year, as a college freshman, my pedestal toppled abruptly when two (obviously misguided) professors assigned me a C in Introduction to Philosophy and a D in the most basic of writing classes. I ceased shopping for book tour accessories and went on to finish college with more Cs and Ds, and the occasional A or B that felt out of place on my report card.
Post college, there was still no bestselling memoir gracing airport bookstore racks. But there was one book that made my life off the pedestal a preferred place to be. It was the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, attributed by most to King Solomon, the wisest and most wealthy man of his day. Here you will find that familiar passage that inspired the 1965 song by the Byrds – “Turn Turn Turn …To everything there is a a season.” And here you will find Solomon’s analysis of the questions plaguing us all. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life?
Solomon describes his pursuit of meaning through acts of self indulgence, wealth accumulation, and the attainment of status. He concludes that all of these activities amount to nothing; in his words, chasing after wind, meaningless vanity. The person who attains status dies and is forgotten. The person who amasses wealth dies and leaves his riches to fools who will quickly dispense of it. Those who indulge in pleasurable pursuits discover only fleeting joy followed by dissatisfaction. Life that is lived under the sun. according to Solomon, is utter vanity.
Those words, under the sun, describe most of my life up until I became a parent. That is when I “came to the end of myself” (a cliched phrase, but one that rings true). I was trying to manage my 4 year old’s diabetes, which for someone who is into control and perfectionism, is quite impossible. I needed help. This was not a dramatic conversion story worthy of a podcast, only the realization that life under the sun was empty and if I turned my eyes toward God, there was meaning, purpose, and help to get through life’s menial moments as well as those of great terror.
I never did assemble that book tour outfit (primarily due to the absence of a book). But I am still following the God of Solomon who actually did write a best seller.
And I am trying each day to recognize the vanity of life lived solely under the sun.
Hi, Barclay — I like your take on Ecclesiastes. I’m a big fan of the book, and I did a review of Robert Alter’s translation a few years ago on my website — https://patricktreardon.com/book-review-ecclesiastes-from-the-wisdom-books-translated-by-robert-alter-with-commentary/ Pat
Thanks, Pat! I loved reading your review!!
VERY philosophical. A+
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