“Why shouldn’t things be largely absurd, futile, and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go very well together.” — George Santayana, Harvard, 1889 to 1912.
“There is no reason to suppose that a man’s life has any more meaning than the life of the humblest insect that crawls from one annihilation to another.” — Joseph Wood Krutch, professor of English, Columbia University from 1937 to 1952.
King Solomon of Judah (c. 950 B.C.) held a different view than these men, though he apparently came to his view by mentally passing through the concepts George Santayana and Joseph Krutch describe. Solomon is still known the world over–3,000 years later–for his wisdom. The Hebrew book of Ecclesiastes, attributed to him, is Solomon’s monologue to the world about the ultimate questions of life: origin, meaning/purpose, morality, and what end one may expect. In the estimations of men like Ravi Zacharias these elements become essential for forming any worldview, let alone one that is Hebrew.
As a philosopher does, Solomon sought out wisdom from all of life’s experiences, and because vast riches were at his disposal, the son of David repeatedly added ‘more’ to his life’s portfolio simply for the opportunity to gain wisdom. That is, he lived purposefully, not haphazardly. During the discourse of the Preacher (as Solomon titles himself), the reader “walks” through the progression of the king’s philosophical musings, which still find great relevance today. Solomon demonstrates his worldview was formed by wrestling the same thoughts every thinker mulls.
Ecclesiastes begins with considerations of life from a certain vantage point. Early in the book, the common refrain is much like Krutch and Santayana, “this is also emptiness… vexation of soul.” Under the Sun rings out repeatedly. It is metaphoric in the same sense we use the phrase today–(e.g. “there’s nothing new under the sun”). Everything is empty (Eccl. 1:1-11): getting wisdom is empty if that is one’s goal (Eccl. 1:12-18); Self-indulgence is empty (Eccl. 2:1-11); Living wisely for wise living’s sake is empty (Eccl. 2:12-17); Hard work and accomplishment for the sake of accomplishing and working hard are both empty (Eccl. 2:18-26). In essence, the message of Eccl. 1-2 is that no matter what new idea you’ve got and no matter how unique you want to be or how much you’d like to make your mark on the world, all things are just a reworking of what has come before you; and our lives are bound to the seemingly ceaseless onward march of time and seasons. Wow! Thanks Solomon! That’s so encouraging… *twitch* But, hey, these are the facts of life. And, it is a good thing Solomon’s wisdom does not end there, unlike Krutch’s and Santayana’s.
Chapters 3-10 are where the reader gets down to the nitty gritty. Solomon’s progress of thought now expands from the small view of Krutch and Santayana to talking origins. He mentions God, and so, brings a Maker into one’s perspective. We entertain this with him, and with this new perspective, Solomon re-examines all that he has said previously. Then, a grand discovery is made. Nothing done or experienced in time and through seasons of life is purposeless, if one has a Maker. Life is, rather, a sacred gift; and the responsibilities, relationships and experiences in which we find ourselves are meant to be lessons in life itself (Eccl. 3:1-9). Man’s life is a gift from God (Eccl. 3:10). Everything has meaning, everything… though we perhaps cannot see it yet. What’s more, man’s life is linked to eternity (Eccl. 3:11). Finally, man’s life can be enjoyable now (Eccl. 3:12-14). [outline: ESV Study Bible; commentary: Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, Eccl. 3:1-14]
Here is a great mystery of the universe–that God has set eternity within the hearts of Mankind. Solomon apparently holds this truth to be self-evident, seeing he does not attempt to support the claim. It is contextually a side note, a thing Solomon perhaps takes for granted that the reader will agree with.
Is eternity in the heart of man self-evident? One can observe Mankind wants to know purpose, not only for his life on the whole (origin, meaning, destiny) but also for the events which happen to him within his lifetime (circumstance, or justice/morality). That kind of desire, my friend, is the desire for an eternal perspective–outside of time. The phenomenon is unique to us as humans, and the desire comes from the soul of man, which Plato agreed, is immortal. Yes, this desire must have its lodging in our souls, or metaphorically, the heart. C.S. Lewis perhaps stated it best when writing, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” J. R. R. Tolkein adds, “God willed that the hearts of men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein.” Is not a desire for viewing ourselves and events outside of time the same as a desire to function in a realm other than our own, a world parallel to but outside of time? I assert with Solomon a hearty yes. Therefore, we can see plainly that eternity within the heart of man is self-evident.
To answer Krutch, mankind is different from animals, which–as far as science can tell–do not have the capacity to think about their thinking. Animals can learn action and consequence, and so, have a set of learned responses that may register on some emotional level secondarily. Those creatures that are social and pack oriented also display limited reason, emotion, hierarchy/submission, loyalty, etc. However, again, as far as science can tell, animals do not philosophize on making ultimate sense of their existence, nor do we catch beasts expressing their ponderous thoughts on the why’s of events which befall them, let alone the accuracy or efficacy of their own moral psychologies.
All of these unique human traits reveal that we are, foremost, eternal beings. We all know that there is more to humanity than physicality. There is the immaterial, and it is robed, even caged in one sense within the material. For example, when one cuts his finger, he refers to it as ‘my finger,’ not as if the finger owns him but that he (immaterial) owns his finger (material). Again, we can ponder our existence and personal life’s history, as if we are outside of ourselves, as if we are outside of time itself. As one friend put it, we have an in-built viewing screen, which can play reel after reel, whatever we recall, for the sake of complex meditation. And, science says this also happens within our dreams, so that in our sub-conscious mind, we are trying to make sense out of our life’s experience on the abstract side of our thought process…all so that in the morning our concrete side can better process the conundrums we face. We consciously and subconsciously seek transcendence and understanding and catharsis (the great peace-bringing release); and if this cannot be reached, then we seek escape or else continue the search more ardently–trying the same methods yet expecting differing results.
Just as anyone would, Solomon goes on to discuss evils and pains, social inequities and injustice, as well as going yet farther in to duty and wisdom. Solomon ends Ecclesiastes by declaring God as a fair and impartial judge, who will avenge all injustice, secret or open. If you will receive it, all injustice, wrongs and evils were placed on Jesus Christ at His cross (Is. 53:1-12; 1 Pet. 2:24). Hence, instead of immediate judgement, now is a time of grace toward all (even the most vile) and of patience on God’s part, because God is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Christ came into the world not to condemn it but to save it by fulfilling all God’s Law, knowing we fall short and miss the mark of God’s perfections (John 3:16-17; Rom. 10:4).
What is the answer to all of these things? The answer is that though God has set eternity in our hearts, we still do not have God’s ‘all-knowing, outside-of-time perspective. Even though we have it in us to ponder our existence, and even though we have been given a driving desire to know the purpose for events in our lifetime, God has not granted ‘all-knowledge’ to mankind. We cannot see the end from the beginning, as God. Sure, we can study history; and we can surely study ourselves. Yet, we do not know His grand plan in the way He fully knows it. Therefore, we struggle with purpose and meaning, because we find our own understanding a limited thing and subsequently hard to trust, no matter how much knowledge and understanding we acquire (Prov. 3:5-6; Eccl. 12:12). Still, we have this statement about the security found in God:
“He has made everything beautiful in His time. … I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away” (Eccl. 3:11, 14-15).
In other words, God has a grand plan and superintends it with great care from his vantage point of eternity. The plan is perfect from that perspective. You are not a pawn; you are a player. He assures you of purpose and destiny (Rom. 8:29-31; Eph. 4:1). He offers that you find both in Him. He offers that you trade in your self-trust for trust in Him–in His Son. True, His plan uses both things painful and things pleasant; yet, allow me to add, if you trust Him now, then one day (perhaps even in this lifetime)–whatever His timing may be–He plans to show you the full beauty and placement of your life. What’s more, trusting Him now means His plan to restore all things will begin in and through your life. You’d be able to stand by His side spiritually while He displays the ways He miraculously manipulates time and evil to work out good things for your joy and his glory. To know him in this way is to know His Name, Redeemer.
“If we believingly accept life as a gift, and thank God for it, we will have a better attitude toward the burdens that come our way. If we grudgingly accept life as a burden, then we will miss the gifts that come our way. Outlook helps to determine outcome.” — Wiersbe
With this knowledge, we come to the sum of man’s existence, Solomon style. “Let us here the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
RESOURCE (heavily relied upon herein)