Ecclesiastes

My songwriting in the past year or so has been influenced by two pieces of literature. The first is a book by philosopher James K.A. Smith that summarizes Charles Taylor’s epic tome, “A Secular Age.” The second piece of literature that has influenced my songwriting is the book of “Ecclesiastes.”

It is quite interesting that I was reading these two books at the same time. “Ecclesiastes” is a piece of three-thousand-year-old, wisdom literature exploring the vanity of life. “The everyday and the mundane is pointless in the end,” says the Preacher, “Regardless of whether you are a prophet, peasant, or king.”

Likewise in “A Secular Age,” Charles Taylor is trying to explain human longing for transcendence and meaning in a purposeless, accidental universe. Taylor’s description of our present, post-post-modern dilemma sounded very similar to Solomon’s semi-autobiographical philosopher-professor, the Preacher. It was almost like I was in the midst of two great thinkers, separated by thousands of years of time, that were, nonetheless, having this dialogue about the minds and lives of mankind.

Ecclesiastes is an oft-misunderstood book. One reads the ancient scroll and responds, “Welp, I’m depressed. I thought the Bible wanted me to live my best life now. I’m done with that.” But that’s not the point of the book. Ecclesiastes is dealing with the same ideas that “A Secular Age” is dealing with. How can anyone believe in beauty and goodness when everything around us points to death and decay? And yet, how could a purposeless, accidental universe produce life-changing love between a man and wife?

In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher says, “There is nothing new under the sun. We know what man is.” We’re born. We eat. Work. Live. Procreate. We die. And yet, we feel like there is more. Something burns in our chest. Taylor makes the same basic point in his scholarly (Harvard published it afterall), philosophical work. We are taught, like good little boys and girls, that there is nothing magical or mystical to our lonely existence; but we feel a pull, something tugging at our hearts, that says there is meaning to this apparently meaningless world.

In his book “Every Good Endeavor,” Timothy Keller writes, “ The author of Ecclesiastes is using the character of the Philosopher (the Preacher) to push readers toward an understanding of the transcendent uniqueness and necessity of God.”[1] Francis Schaeffer talked about society’s need to be built on a reliable, philosophical base. If the foundation isn’t secure, the framework will fall.

There is a point to all of this vain vapor we call life. There is a point if we build on the right foundation. The only sure foundation is Father God. Jesus said, “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

I am not saying that there is not terrible evil and it can be written off. But neither am I saying that truth, beauty, and goodness should be written off either. Some One is responsible for this great, beautiful, mysterious creation. Perhaps the low points of life are some of the best opportunities to draw close to Father God – maybe even more so than the brief glimpses of transcendence. What do you think?


[1] Keller, Timothy. Every Good Endeavor, pg. 100

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