Every now and then I consider the puzzle of Ecclesiastes. The book exists in both the Old Testament of the Christian Bible and the Ketuvim section of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible.
It is a two part puzzle, part one is “Who wrote this?” part two is “What is this doing here?”
The author is anonymous, rumored to be Solomon but written centuries after his death as an autobiography. The format feels strange, an autobiography written in third person narrative is apparently a common form of the time, but confusing to one seeking meaning.
Which leads into the second part of the puzzle. The focus of the book is meaning. The meaning of life. And it is not the warm and fuzzy or even severe and obedient life that is presented elsewhere. So what does it mean?
The first four verses are “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.” It doesn’t get much brighter. It does suggest, that within such futility joy may be found, as in 8:15 “So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun”. At the end of twelve chapters, it concludes “13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
To me, this is a commentary on the separation of Earthly and spiritual lives, a lesson in perspective. We leave no eternal monuments, everything eventually becomes dust. That does not mean we should despair or disregard kindness. Our lives here should be about enjoyment, and sharing that enjoyment with others. Charity does not mean impoverishing yourself, it means raising others to your level. As one person said to me “I am not a human having a spiritual experience, I am a spirit having a human experience”.
Regardless of our individual beliefs on “moral” and “immoral”, we do all generally agree on “good” and “bad”. I often hear people disturbed by the concept of judgement, as if the person making the judgements had some bearing on their lives. The only judgement that matters is the judgement of God, the eternal judgement.
The meaning of our lives is not expressed on Earth, it is however created on Earth. I believe that is the message of Ecclesiastes.