Day Four: Where is God?
Dropping all of the questions arising from the first two verses in Ecclesiastes is a significant weight to jettison. The questions matter, but being bogged down does little in the way of freely reading the speaker’s/writer’s words.
Instead of a reductionist perspective and dissecting every word, let’s read the entire first chapter and see if this sheds some light on where Ecclesiastes is leading us.
After reading Chapter One I am struck just how different Ecclesiastes begins compared to almost every other book in the Bible. The focus is not on God–the focus is on people–specifically the speaker. The phrase, “What’s in it for me?” came to mind as I reread the first chapter.
From this perspective the very thought expressed in the second verse, “Meaningless! Meaningless!…Everything is meaningless!” is even more impactful. If you believe Yahweh authorized, inspired and even guided the writing of Ecclesiastes, it would appear Yahweh is not afraid of being questioned and doubted.
While many Psalms carry forward this same hopelessness and cries for God to step in and eradicate the pain of a suffering servant, here we witness a person discussing “wisdom” and finds it lacking. And, the speaker of Ecclesiastes finds the person/entity to blame: it’s God.
“I devote myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men!” –Ecclesiastes 1:13
But, the speaker does not stop there: “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. What is twisted cannot be straightened, what is lacking cannot be counted.”
Is this an indictment of God’s creation? It would appear the speaker is not choosing to take the blame–his own actions making him culpable for the meaninglessness of life. He does not say, “I am twisted. I am lacking.” Why would a perfect, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Yahweh create a flawed creation? The “why” questions begin to unfold, but let’s finish the chapter, and what a finish it is:
“For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
Whoa! Stop right there! Are you saying the more I learn in the form of “wisdom”–something appearing to be an objective according to Proverbs and much of the Bible’s teachings–is possibly “bad” for the human soul? Why would a loving Yahweh burden–even trick–His creation?
This final statement in chapter one recalls something a good friend of mine–an evangelical atheist–spoke of when he was deeply into studying the Bible:
“What caused me to lose faith was studying the Bible. The more I read, the more I studied…even the more I prayed and meditated, I came to believe there is no God…just people wishing there were such a thing.”
He will note the contradictions in Scripture rampant through the Bible, the lack of any factual proof of Genesis, Exodus and Jesus and the reality people’s interpretation and subsequent denominations prove the Bible’s lack of credibility as “God’s word.”
And, the final words in Ecclesiastes seem to support this “the more you study, the more challenging faith is” reality for so many former and current, skeptical believers.
The question continuing to circle in my thoughts is a question for Yahweh: Why would “You” write this (or authorize it)?
There are enough reasons to doubt the existence of a god/gods without the Bible itself fueling the doubt, right? In the clearly present doubt-filled words of Ecclesiastes in chapter one there is one certainty: this is not your “typical” book in the Bible. Where is this leading us–the readers?
And, where is God? Where’s the “Thou shalt not” or “Believe in God or you will burn in hell” statements and commands? Why doesn’t God make things clear–instead Yahweh seems to be muddying up the water. Is God trying to deceive us–to tempt us–into not believing based on His own authorized revelation? It seems like Yahweh may have ducked out for a little too long while the scribes were jotting stuff down.
What is going on here?
Something is going on here much different, possibly more honest in presenting the truthful doubts of humans. But, that’s the big picture, for me, of Chapter One. Now, let’s go back through the chapter–verse by verse–and see what reductionism may uncover.