Thursday, December 10, 2009

Meaning Of Life (Ecclesiastes)

The major hermeneutical difficulty of Ecclesiastes is to understand its apparent internal contradictions. At times, Qoheleth seemed to be pessimistic or gloomy about everything in life (“All is vanity!”) while at other times, he admonished readers to enjoy their labor, eat well, live joyfully with one’s wife and receive with gladness what God has given. As a result, interpreters have conflicting descriptions of Qoheleth as a skeptic (R. B. Y. Scott) or an orthodox theist (Aalders, Leupold). Others have tried to resolve the tension by spiritualizing exegesis (Jewish Targum and medieval Christians), positing a dialogue between two differing speakers (Yeard, Eichhorn) or by presenting the futility of the world for evangelistic purposes so that readers will pursue the delights of heaven (the Puritans, Wesley). Eaton took issue with interpreters (Barton, McNeile and Podechard) who saw Ecclesiates as a basically skeptical work with glossatorial additions at the hands of orthodox editor(s) as it would entail a clumsy redactor who added conflicting comments to 'skeptical' passages in the same book. He could have more easily amended these passages altogether. But there is no textual support for such changes, the vocabulary of alleged insertions is remarkably similar to undisputed passages and no methodological necessity exists for such theories if an alternative exposition could reconcile these sections coherently.

Michael Eaton attempted an approach that avoids the pitfalls of critical orthodoxy which downplayed the orthodox elements within Ecclesiastes and traditional orthodoxy which at times has ignored or allegorized its pessimism. “What, then, is the purpose of Ecclesiastes? It is an essay in apologetics. It defends the life of faith in a generous God by pointing to the grimness of the alternative.” He saw a heaven-earth dichotomy in which ‘God is in heaven and you upon earth’ (5:2). The recurring expressions like ‘under the sun’, ‘under heaven’ and ‘on earth’ described the futility of a barren life without reference to faith in God. Therefore, much of the book was blanketed by pessimism. When such terminologies fade away (2:24-26; 11:1-12:14), a more positive tone emerges with references to the ‘hand of God’ (2:24), the joy of man (2:25, 3:12. 5:18, 20, 9:7, 11:7-9), and the generosity of God (2:26, 3:13, 5:19). Qoheleth showed the inevitable bankruptcy of ‘secularism’ in order to drive us to God where life’s meaning can be fulfilled. “It is only to one seeking satisfaction in disregard of God that the Preacher’s message stops at ‘All is vanity’… When a perspective of faith is introduced ‘All is vanity’ is still true, but it is not the whole picture; ‘under the sun’ it is the whole truth.”

But what does the phrase ‘under the sun’ mean? Read on for the whole article