Ecclesiastes, the book of Qohelet, is the book of crisis.
Not the book of a crisis. A crisis is an event, a happening. A crisis strikes us from a blind side, laying us low in the dust. It happens, it is over, and it leaves us reeling in our attempt to recover. Job had a crisis; or indeed, a series of crises. Were we to use medical terminology, we might call Job’s case one of acute crisis which pushes him into confrontation with God.
That is not the experience of Qohelet. This book is about a chronic state of crisis. It is about the long slow hum of crisis that is background noise for all our activity. This is the crisis that strikes young adults as they realize that they are indeed responsible for the trajectory of their lives. It reappears in middle age disillusionment and yearning to re-cast the vision for life anew. Again it rears its head near retirement, as the prospect of laying down one’s vocation sends chills. The crisis unmasks itself in all its horror as the end of life draws to the close. It is the ultimate crisis of death and the question mark on the other side.
Yes, Christians claim assurance. We list all the proofs and the reasons and the rational evidence. We speak of the inner work of God in our hearts. And yet there is still the question: What if there is but a gaping void? An eternal silence with no knowing of silence? What if the unthinkable were really true?
Qohelet teaches us how to wrestle with those questions from within the perspective of faith. It is not a book for the Christian who likes easy answers and quick assurances. Don’t come seeking an easy smack down of proof on the table.
You can forget about “muscular Christianity” with Qohelet. He lays vision-casting leader-boy pastors in the dust. “All is vanity” – all the campaigns and big ideas and slick production values and conferences and sermon downloads – it’s all vanity.
It’s the same for “social gospel” Christianity. Crusades for justice – vanity. Activism and letter writing campaigns – vanity. Marches and protests and progress and policy papers – vanity, vanity, vanity.
Need I say anything about “mushy middle” Christianity?
If we aren’t in crisis, then Qohelet will push us there.
And there, in the midst of our vanity and inability and confusion and perplexity, there where we need healing and power in our lives, we cry out “I believe, help my unbelief!”
And Qohelet has some words for us.
I’ll be preaching through Ecclesiastes, the book of Qohelet this summer. I would be interested in your questions and observations, your fears and frustrations, your stories and your speculations about this most potent book. Comments are open, I look forward to hearing from you.
Soli Deo Gloria,