What has been will be again,
What has been done will be done again;
There is nothing new under the sun...
- Ecclesiastes 1:9
The steady pinging sounded like rain against my deck. But it was a sunny day - breezy, beautiful, exactly right for fall.
Ah, fall, the years most aptly named season; the noises I heard were natures sound effects: falling pine straw, leaves, twigs and other cast-off things.
Now come the rakes, brooms, and leaf bags to cart the debris away, and the liniment for dormant back muscles suddenly pressed into use.
Time to check the coolant in our cars, and clear the closets of summer clothes and stock them with warmer fabrics and longer sleeves. For the meticulous, houses will be thoroughly cleaned, and yards readied for winters hibernation. And in a few days, well set our clocks back - fall backward - again.
Same old, same old. Is life a drag or what?
Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! writes the author of Ecclesiastes (1:2), one of the poetic books of the Old Testament. In what sounds like a litany of pessimism, these 12 chapters are like the autobiography of a man (presumably Solomon) who has everything - wealth, wisdom, and fame - yet doubts that he owns or has accomplished anything worthwhile.
And, oh, the drudgery of it all: For everything there is a season... a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted... a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to keep, and a time to throw away... (chapter 3).
And the unfairness: No man knows whether love or hate awaits him... the righteous and the wicked all die; the same destiny overtakes us all (9:1-3).
Unspeakable pathos, writes commentator Henry Halley about this puzzling portion of the Bible. How can such a book be part of Gods Word?
Funny what triggers latent memories, like watching natures residue cover the very ground Ive just raked or swept, and finding myself quoting Ecclesiastes. Though I usually see value in the routine, that endless supply of stuff taunting my obsessive need for order had me down in the dumps for hours - until I read the rest of the Ecclesiastes story.
When Jesus traveled the countryside teaching His followers, the phrase, all men are created equal, didnt apply. He may have addressed a 5,000-person multitude when His words were easy to understand, but when He wanted to explain something deeper, he withdrew to a quiet location accompanied only by His closest disciples.
Once, near the Sea of Galilee, while preaching to such a large crowd He had to move into a boat to keep from falling into the water, it was still only His disciples who heard the parable explained. The crowds heard the overview, but blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear (Matthew 13:16), Jesus told the smaller group when they were alone.
Many people are familiar with the all is vanity (meaningless)... a time for this, a time for that section of Eccle-siastes. President Kennedy admired the first eight verses of chapter three so much they were quoted at his funeral. But few read on to learn the eternal value of the book, or find out why it was included in the Bible.
Yes, write the editors of Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible, apart from God life is meaningless, work is pointless, history goes around in circles, and all nature ends in death.
But when God created the world with its changing seasons and limitless opportunities for work and play, He didnt intend for His human creation to go it alone, or leave Him out of the picture. The One who often said, I will never leave you nor forsake you, first needs to be invited to travel our roads with us.
Finally, the author of Ecclesiastes gives us the secret of an optimistic life - and the advice repeated by godly parents and teachers ever since:
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say:
I find no pleasure... and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Chapter 12).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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