When you enter the church building, do you enter for a time of relaxation, fun and Bible class? Certainly, there is value at being relaxed, and a great value in Bible class, but the word “fun” is a word wherein much caution should be exercised. Do you (or the children) come to the building for fun, or to learn the ways of God to make life in the adult world much more manageable? Surely, it is to learn the ways of God; to learn righteousness and that, ultimately, there is coming a day when we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). Since this is the case, is it not a matter of wisdom to learn here and now how we can prepare for that? “A child knows nothing of such things! Why in the world would you want to lay heavy things like that on her?” I see you who made this remark missed the point. A child may not know now, but in time a child will learn to know. To a child, one teaches to the level of the child; such heavy topics as death, judgment accountability needs to be learned, and starting early is a good time to do so. RT
One of the great laments saints find in the Lord’s church is in relation to those who are spiritually weak, immature, temperamental and childish in thinking. This manifests itself when one is offended or, said differently, when one takes umbrage at something said or done; this is not necessarily related to something sinful. If offended, as the little boy says to his friends or associates, “I am taking my ball and going home. I am done with you!” In a church-setting context this translates into one’s visible presence being removed, and all things materially related taken away.
“I’ll show you!”
“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (Prov. 24:10, ESV).
In part, what the offended one is hoping for is that someone will make an appeal, a begging appeal to come back and be with the local assembly. Whatever spiritual failings or psychological weakness there might be in the offended one, the One truly troubled in the Lord.
One’s physical contribution to the work of the saints, in a local setting, is crucial, but not so crucial the Lord’s work will stop or be compromised. I have heard (never experienced) from others there is a large contributor in the congregation so “let us not make them mad or upset” lest they take their ball and go home. Really? Is this the right and godly approach to some issue that needs to be addressed? It is not. If one is so easily offended when the truth is spoken, then the problem is not in the one who spoke the truth, but in the one easily offended.
“Be practical, Ron!” Being practical is very important, but not at the expense of what is right and godly. As one brother said years ago, sometimes growth comes from purging. RT
The spirit of forgiveness is the blessing of a spiritual characteristic that permeates the Lord Jesus. He won’t forgive if one does not ask and does not submit to His authority as revealed in the New Testament. But if one does, forgiveness flows freely. There is no “have to” with the Lord, but there is always a “want to.” “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4, ESV). With some, however, they will not forgive unless compelled to do so. Imagine the Lord thinking and operating in such a shallow immature way! Those who are this way can be sure that as they applied their standard to others, it will be applied to them. In Matthew 7:1-5, in relation to interpersonal connections, the Lord condemns hypocrisy; the one who “forgives” because of a compelling reason (but does not forget and maintains a continued separation), those who think and operate this way are judged by the Lord. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive, that your Father in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11.25-26). “I will forgive because I have to” means one has not forgiven.
Not every personality in a congregation, home, school classroom, or in the work environment will be a perfect fit with another. There are times when personalities just don’t mesh. This is not a problem, but it can be a problem when two personalities not compatible with one another (from the perspective of one) is encouraged to think the best approach is to avoid the other without resolving the issue at hand.
Sometimes it goes like this: two people are together, but one of the two is not comfortable around the other. This dis-comfort does not have to have to be associated with anything sinful, it just may be the difference between personalities. The one who is not comfortable with the other then makes it a problem with the declarative expression, “I don’t like him!”
Wow! Is this because the “one not liked” teaches, preaches, talks, acts, and/or carries himself in some way the other does not like? Evidently. The “one not liked” has no clue, no understanding of what and why a wall of separation exists, put in place by the “one who does not like.” To avoid discomfort, the “one who does not like” finds reasons to, first, not resolve the matter (but maintains the wall of separation) and, second, in spite of denials, not carry oneself as a Christian and worship with the saints.
If one is a Christian, that is, if a follower of Christ, the virtues of character, honesty, generosity will surface to the top of awkward relationships and address the matter that has put a wall between the two by the “one who does not like.” What did the “one not liked” do to earn this response of the separating wall? The “one not liked” is then left on his own to figure out why he is not liked, only to learn no specifics are offered. When the “one not liked” seeks to resolve the issue with the “one who does not like,” the “one who does not like” modifies the declarative expression or just lies to protect herself.
“Is there a problem here?” you ask. This is a problem here and everywhere where saints gather. It’s a problem because of spiritual and moral weakness. The problem exists because at least one person does not want to do as the Lord expressly said:
All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few are they that find it (Matthew 7:12-14, ASV).
Pay attention to this exhortation, for one must have 1) a charitable spirit of doing to others as you want others to treat you, and if one desires 2) to enter the narrow gate one must do this, for 3) if the Lord’s approval is worth having, then walking the narrow path toward the narrow gate means one does that which is right because it is right; the Lord will accept nothing less. To do less than this is to put a wall of separation between two people; the “one who does not like” is the one putting the wall of separation up between two people called Christians, for at least one is not thinking, speaking and acting like a follower of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Eph. 2:14-16, ESV).
Paul’s point was in relation to the separation between Jew and Gentiles, but the point he made there has a principled application to all who put a wall of separation up between self and others. Jesus came to bring people together under His banner, under His way of thinking, for when we are left to ourselves walls of separation arise.
So, because I don’t like her, I will not be around much. The one who thinks this way can’t apply the words of the Holy Spirit, as Paul wrote one is to do: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:9-10, ESV). RT
Is it not interesting that in Luke 1, here on this Mother’s Day occasion, the announcement of heaven was given on two separate occasions to women who have yet to know the experiences of pregnancy and motherhood? That is, however, what we read in this chapter of Luke.
Elisabeth, an older woman who looked on her life as one not blessed by God because she had no child (or no children) to raise and nurture. She may not have considered her and her husband (Zacharias) as cursed, but it is more than likely she saw herself and them as not blessed (cf. Deut. 7:14: You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock. ESV). She was very much on the Lord’s mind (as was her husband) and she was very much in the Lord’s good graces. It goes to show (teach) that reality as one thinks of it in her life may not be reality at all.
Mary, a young woman, the age of which no one knows (perhaps a middle to late teenager). She was young enough that she was not married, but she was old enough to be betrothed (all but officially married) to the man Joseph. The same angel who came to Elisabeth’s husband six months earlier, comes now to Mary. Mary was perplexed and confused about the situation, but she was wise enough to accept what she did not understand because of the source of the information, that source being the Almighty.
These two women had a story to tell, a story to tell that turned the world upside-down!
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us (Luke 1:1, ASV), Many people in the world have stories to tell about their own experiences relative to God, Christianity, the Holy Spirit, salvation, the church and Jesus. During the days of Luke many were telling the story of Jesus; those telling that story may not have been blatantly wrong or mistaken, but perhaps incomplete. On the other hand, some Bible expositors put forth the perspective those Luke had in view were Matthew and Mark, so Luke set out to complete this message of the Lord toward a particular audience of people. Unfortunately, in our day, many who speak about the Lord, Holy Spirit, salvation, etc., are blatantly wrong or mistaken. The only way to determine accuracy in matters pertaining to God is to go to His revealed Word, as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11). even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Luke 1:2), The Word of God must be preached to people, and preaching the Message of God to people means the Word of God must be taught to people who do not know. Unlike in the days of the first century, we are a most fortunate people because we have a Bible in our house (likely more than one), a Bible on our phone (perhaps more than one translation), but because it is so common, people don’t respect it like they should. “I can read the Bible any time I want” saying this as they lightly set it aside for another day. What a shame! Those in Luke’s day had a zeal for God to teach it with compassion and passion; it cost them much, but they taught it just the same. it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus (Luke 1:3); who Theophilus was is not known, but the writing document put together by Luke was not only to teach and reaffirm to him the truthfulness of what he wrote, but also for us. Peter said of those things written, man now has all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and Jude says that those things revealed must be defended, that is contended for when others speak against it (Jude 3; cf. Phil. 1:27). that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed (Luke 1:4). The Gospel message is a message of hope, but the message of hope is surrounded in this world by much darkness. While the gospel message will never be defeated, those to who the Gospel message is give can be defeated, and their defeat will be the result of 1) neglect or 2) reject.
We may not have a story to turn the world upside-down like Elisabeth and Mary, but we do have a story to tell. That story is the life of Christ in the life of us each. As you thank your mother for being who she is, be sure to thank the Lord because of who He is and what He did for each of us. That is the story we can tell others and should tell from the mountaintops. RT
In Hosea the Lord said His people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (4:6). In Romans, Paul said faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the words of Christ (10:17). In 2 Peter, Peter said the saints are to grow in knowledge, that is, knowledge of God’s word. In 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote one does not walk by sight, but by faith (by God’s word). In each of these passages we learn those who love the Lord are people/saints who know the Lord’s will. They don’t find reasons to not read, but instead make opportunities to read and learn. No doubt, it is beyond disappointing for the Lord to see those who say they belong to Him fail in desiring to gain understanding of His will. Why would anyone operate in this way? 1) they don’t like to read, 2) so many activity involvements, 3) not really redeemed, but Christian in name only. It’s not their lack of knowledge, but their lack of effort and even desire to gain knowledge. When these people are put in stressful situations, they fail the Lord and themselves because they took no time to hear the Lord by reading His word, thus learning what can be and needs to be done. Will the Lord hear them when they call out? “Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:28-29, KJV). There is a correlation between this failure to learn and the exhortations from the Lord when He said many are called, but few are chosen AND why call me Lord when you do not hear me (Luke 6:46). RT
For all your life you have studied the Scriptures. You can recall in an instant for someone who asks where something is located if there is a need to know. You have not only read the Scriptures faithfully, the entirety of the Bible at least once annually, but you have done much detailed exegetical work on many passages of Scripture. If anyone thinks of you, they think of a “walking Bible.” In some strange way, there is something in that descriptive term that is ego-building though, perhaps, in your modesty you deflect such sentiments. Jesus faced this when He faced those religious leaders in the community who were considered “walking Bibles.” Yet, Jesus took note of how little they truly knew. “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (Matt. 22.29) He indicted those professional religious leaders with being unlearned, at least in part!
“You do not know the Scriptures” is a mighty powerful indictment against people who would be considered “walking Bibles.” Notice, also, Jesus said they did not know the power of God. I learned a good-while back and was reminded of this by David Pharr while in preaching school, the words of Paul:
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height–to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
To have someone call you a “walking Bible” might make you feel very good, but one needs also to remember, when speaking of people, a walking Bible has many empty pages. Even the smartest of those called “walking Bibles” will tell you how inadequate and empty they are or feel on not a few, but many occasions. Try as one might to understand and apply, there are many times when weakness or neglect soon follows. It is very important to have knowledge of God’s way, but that knowledge will do nothing on judgment day to help if the knowledge attained is not put into application.
There are some who have the academic knowledge of God, but these same ones do what they can to restrict God’s work only to that which He said in the pages of the New Testament. I refuse to do that. With confidence, I can say what I understand the New Testament to teach, even defend it against those who speak in a contrary way. To restrict the Lord, however, only to that which He said about Himself is to restrict Him too much. This I will not do. Why? Paul said it well. RT
Summary – this interpretive summary of Ecclesiastes is, by nature, limited; many components of the chapters are left out because my intent was to summarize an overall picture. No doubt, others will disagree with my summary, and David Dorsey manifestly shows the futility at trying to organize, symmetrically, the book.
Nevertheless, I offer these thoughts with this effort.
I have taken time to study and understand via many books, some of which are from Denny Petrillo (Truth for Today), Michael Eaton (Tyndale), Roland Murphey (Word Biblical Commentary), Ian Provan (NIV Application), Jerry Shepherd (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary-R), of these sources I have found Petrillo, Provan and Eaton to be very useful. It was not long before I made use no longer of Shepherd, but instead included Derek Kinder (The Message of Ecclesiastes). I have used as a primary text the NKJV of the Bible; after reading daily the book in the NKJV and completing the textual study, I read the book daily in the ASV (American Standard Version). I have pursued this study, among other reasons, because of the Euthrypo Dilemma, a dilemma that is generated solely from a perspective of under the sun; it is not addressed in the book, but it generated in me a desire to understand naturalism from the perspective of a wise man considering things under the sun. Man, in his wisdom thinks he understands, but Solomon in his wisdom had a greater wisdom than any man who ever walked on the earth (short of Jesus). His approach to a better understanding of life and its meaning can’t be improved on with anything produced by man. In fact, Will Durant’s book On the Meaning of Life is an illustration of man’s effort to do exactly what Solomon did.
Vanity is from the perspective of (1) under the sun and from (2) one who sought out meaning in life in the natural realm. Solomon does not give thought to these things to which he gives attention as if God does not exist, he does not even contemplate such foolishness. Some have identified and enumerated the vanities’ Solomon speaks of, but I have not done so. In 1:2, Solomon said all is vanity; he does identify specific things and events that are vain, but his all means that all under the sun is vanity (at least that is how I take his meaning). In my estimation, when Solomon said all is vanity, it’s not that he saw no value in some things (for he did), but only the life as lived by man seems to have no purpose, direction or symmetry from the perspective of under the sun. He looks to find “what is good for the sons of man” (2:3). In reasoning out what is the good in life a man is to pursue, for those living under the sun, one is to look at life as God’s gift and work at that in which he is engaged (that is, his occupation, vocation); in that in which he is engaged, he also looks to God for wisdom and comfort in an otherwise empty, without purpose world (2:24-26; 3:12-13). The good in life is associated with work, but what is associated with good can’t be fully realized without a proper response to God (cf. 3:9-11). A life lived in productive work, in production and provision for his family and others is the good for man in life (5:18-20; 9:7-9). With God before him always, his approach to God must be with reverence (5:1-2; 7:18; 8:12; 12:13-14)
CHAPTERS 1 – 6 (interpretive summary)
- If naturalism is all that there is (with the phrase Under the sun), then wisdom’s value is only a little better than folly’s value; trying to grasp meaning in the world is like trying to grab a hold of wind; it is an empty venture. Solomon rejects (1:13) the foolishness (stupidity) of “naturalism is all that there is,” but if one is to argue this way, or live this way, then foolishness reigns within.
- Under the sun, Solomon satisfied his heart’s desire, accumulating many possessions (2:10), but he concluded the value of wisdom over folly is only minimal, for both end at the same destination, the grave (death). Thus, the good in life is fleeting, unless one begins to understand life as a gift from God (2:24-26). “Good” cannot be identified and measured unless one uses a standard that is transcendent of man; that standard must be God, for the only alternative is “not-God.”
- Under the sun, there is a proper time for many things; the actions and emotions of people bring them to recognize more to life than just existence (3:11), but under the sun God tests man so that he can’t figure out the big-picture (who are we, why we are here, where are we going) on his own, if he thinks he can and believe he has, then he realizes he is no better/greater than the beasts of the field (the animal-rights philosophy of life). Jeremiah 10:23 and 17:9
- Under the sun, there exists oppression, laziness, loneliness, and failure to heed wisdom; from a naturalistic perspective (under the sun) all is vain. Even if one did (does) live with knowledge of God, but chooses to live life in this way, then that life is an empty life, even with the strong cord of friendship; this applies all the way up to the life of the king.
- Under the sun, walk reverently and with fear before God; doing so means life is understood as God’s gift; the vanities of life that otherwise can’t be explained will all come to an end, and only One can give explanation. As one who recognizes life is God’s gift and puts his mind to work, then thinking on matters that weigh the heart down will be minimal – for one is too busy.
- There is much injustice in the word (Under the sun), even as one lives life as it ought to be lived, with the knowledge of God and accountability. The life man lives on earth is in relation to his mouth (sustaining his physical life), but his soul without wisdom is famished. He sees all about him the evil in the world, taking notice that as God gave, God takes away; he may even “contend” (NKJV) with God about this, but only God is in position to know what is best, what is good, for the rest it is a guess.
Will Durant’s book “On the Meaning of Life” illustrates perfectly man’s futility in searching!
CHAPTERS 7 – 12 (interpretive summary)
- Practical exhortations to living with wisdom Under the sun; happiness without a clear sense/understanding of one’s end is foolish and living in the past will benefit no one (7:1-10). On the other hand, God and His work is worthy of much consideration for His wisdom is a shield of defense like many use money toward the same end (7:11-29).
- Under the sun, practical exhortations continue; a proper approach before the king (government). Justice/judgment from the king’s perspective (8:2-9), judgment from the Lord God’s perspective (8:10-17).
- Under the sun, the value of wisdom is minimal (though there is value), but the one event that happens to all is death, so what is the point of having wisdom? Let your wisdom be in understanding God’s gift to you, which is life, your work and your family (9:1-10). Experiences of life teach the value of wisdom, for not all is fair or reasonable, but occasionally time, chance and circumstances overcome (9:11-18).
- Like C-7, in C-10 are practical exhortations of wisdom’s value. Under the sun (last use of the phrase in Book), wisdom is one’s strength, even in opposition, while foolishness shows itself plainly; wisdom and foolishness are not partial to one’s communal status (10:1-7). There is foolishness in the actions of some (10:8-10), in the words spoken by some (10:11-16) and in king’s way of life (10:17-20).
- Since life should be understood for what it is (cf. 9:10, 11), the best approach is to live it understanding 8:15-17. Eaton, I think, has the idea when he says, “the Preacher has called his readers to take life as from the hand of God, and to enjoy it despite its trials and perplexities” (140), but do not lose sight that in the end, each will give an account to Him who gave life as a gift.
- The vigorous life of youth closes for all; without remembering the Creator when one is old, the one who chose to live without God chose poorly. Be reminded the life given by the Creator, is the life that must answer for itself to the One who gave it. With remembrance, there is still vanity/frustration, but with God the vanity of life is given an answer.
What is the good life? The good life is not in the events and actions of life – whatever value and pleasantry there may be in them – but in understanding that life is God’s gift to the one under the sun, and life lived with this understanding gives direction not self-centered.
From Under the Sun there is No Wrong
From the advantage of under the sun (atheistic materialism or naturalism) man cannot know what the good life is (6:12). Solomon demonstrated this in his reasonings on the matter. Those who try the same will come to the same end, their denials not-withstanding. Let them try! Man can’t know what the good life is (under the sun perspective) because he can’t know what is good, he can only guess at it, and hope his guess is accepted by the many. Even if his guess is accepted by the many, all that really results from this is the accumulated counting of noses of those who concur – strictly arbitrary.
If he can’t know what is good, can he know what is properly called morally good? He cannot. How can he, since the word good is associated with evaluation of what is acceptable? In a fluid society like ours, the acceptable good does not stay anchored; in some behavioral areas of life, the evaluation of what is good from the Lord’s perspective is rejected, while the evaluation of what is good from the satanic perspective is accepted (2 Cor. 4:4).
Thus, homosexuality is not wrong, only something that one disagrees with; thus, polygamy is not wrong, only something that one disagrees with; thus, bestiality is not wrong, only something that one disagrees with; pedophilia is not wrong, only something that one disagrees with; the list goes on.
The reply will certainly be to the contrary; the reply from those who have a naturalistic (under the sun) way in their thinking is to reject this approach, but they can’t tell you why this adoption is wrong. Some will say it’s wrong because it hurts others who are innocent. So! What makes hurting others who are innocent wrong? This is where they fail; in their effort to reply, they argue in a circle. If one says that anyone of these are wrong, from the perspective of under the sun, what is the standard applied to make it wrong, and why should another person adopt that standard so identified?
On the Meaning of Life
Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc; New York: 1932
The problem is set forth in a dark/despondent way, considering what religion contributed, science, history, utopia, how the intellect committed suicide, and some final words.
Durant wrote a letter, sent it to some prominent people on the earth at that time, looking for some answers to their perspective on the meaning of life. He painted as dark a perspective of his own to set forth what he thought was the problem in a worse-case scenario. With the time of the enlightenment and with the advance of science, “[t]he growth and spread of knowledge, for which so many idealists and reformers prayed, has resulted in disillusionment which has almost broke the spirit of our race” (4). He wrote these words after the First War and during the time of the Depression, when it started to grip man. The old morality is breaking down and man’s desire to discover truth was a great mistake. “God, who was the consolation of our brief life, and our refuge in bereavement and suffering, has apparently vanished from the scene” (5).
In the next 20 pages, Durant notes the destructive contributions of man’s advancement. Religion, man’s one contribution to hope, when it begins to weaken, life in the spiritual realm turns into life in the biological realm, the heart is (or becomes) empty. What does science do to overcome this? Four contributions of science are (as I enumerated them): 1) science unfolds a picture of universal struggle and death, 2) it points aimlessly to circularity and repetition of life, 3) man comes to understand that he is but a specie, a passing experiment of Nature, 4) man is not the center and summit of the universe (8-14). What contribution from history was made to answering this question? Durant mentions Aristotle, saying “[a]ll things, said Aristotle have been discovered and forgotten many times over…” What changes might appear is only on the surface, for like the sea, as one enters into the depth, the sea is calm, changeless (15). (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9-11, written some 600 years before Aristotle). With all the progress of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, looking for the world of Utopia, all that which is promised comes to nothing, and the only foundation left is character, moral character; already, however, that has been undermined, so what is left (17-20)? With the intellect, “[t]he greatest question of our time is not communism vs. individualism, not Europe vs. America, not even East vs. the West; it is whether men can bear to live without God” (23).
Solomon wrote so many years before Durant and Aristotle: “I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 3:18-19, ESV).
The fascinating thing about this book, among others, was in the replies given. The people who took time to address the inquiry made by Durant were people of some significant accomplishments. They were not economically “poor wretched souls” trying to find the next meal, they were not people of some educational failings, but whatever their education (formal or informal), they were influential in society.
L. Mencken (journalist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English, pessimist and agnostic): replied in materialistic terms. He was born a writer, and he had no choice in the matter. “There is very little conscious volition in all this. What I do was ordained by the inscrutable fates, not chosen by me” (31). His opinion of life is that it has no meaning at all (35). He rejected Christianity because he saw God as “a most stupid, cruel and villainous fellow” (34). Those who believe in immortality have “puerile [childish, silly, trivial] egos” and are “inferior men” (35). What he found to be the most pleasurable thing on earth is music. “It has given me more pleasure in life than any other external thing. I love it more every year” (33).
Sinclair Lewis (novelist, playwright, Nobel Prize winner in Literature, died 1951): Life has value and meaning, but it does not need religion to make it that way. Ethic, morality is a matter of social convenience (37). Life’s meaning comes from living/functioning healthily (some he did not do), physical and metal exercise.
John Erskine (educator, author, pianist, composer; his work was the inspiration for The Great Books for the Western World): he had a more cheerful outlook, but chose to accept the fact that man has both a material and non-material aspect to him; otherwise, the meaning of life, he had no answer to that. “I believe the divine element in man is whatever it is which make us wish to lead a life worth remembering, harmless to others, helpful to them, and increasing our own store of wisdom and peace” (41).
Charles Beard (historian; 1874-1948): the question posed to him is difficult, perhaps impossible to answer (41). The “good life” he wanted to know what it is (was), but he could offer nothing except what he thought. There is value in working, there is value in the human spirit meandering in the world of tragedy, but the good life seemed to be associated with technology. “A knowledge of the good life is our certain philosophic heritage, and technology has given us a poser over nature which enable us to provide the conditions of the good life for all the earth’s multitude” (43).
John Cowper Powys (British Philosopher; 1872-1963): the good life is found in the individual. “The collapse of organized supernaturalism and the absence, from the organized polities of the world, of any essential social liberty or culture, throws the individual back upon himself. For himself and in himself he can re-discover the secrets of faith, of hope, of happiness” (44). In addition he said, “all cruelty is evil” and “all lives are holy and sacred” (46), but he did not say why this is the case.
Edwin Arlington Robinson (pp. 47-49; American Poet; 1864-1935): Knowledge of truth is unknown, but a materialist has a “belief in futility,” but as far as he knows this futility, this absurdity may be factual or truth.
Andre Maurois (pp. 50-58; French Author of novels, histories, children books, science fiction; 1885-1967). The meaning of life needs to be understood in the life lived, not in something outside of life as in whether or not the soul is immortal. He asked a question, but in his question, he affirmed a position: “Shall we not confess, at last, that every proposition that goes beyond human experience is uncertain?”
Will Rogers (pp. 58-62; 1879-1935; actor, humorist, social commentator). His answer to Durant’s inquiry was “Believe in something for another World, but don’t be too set on what it is, and then you won’t start out that life with a disappointment. Live your life so that whatever you lose, you are ahead” (62).
Charles Mayo. (1865-1939; Medical Doctor). Doctor Mayo gave no answer to the inquiry but did identify people as “human insects” (p. 62).
Ossip Gabrilowitsch (pp. 63-65; 1878-1936, a Russian born American pianist). “I am unable to discern any plan leading to a higher fruition here or elsewhere.” He expressed a pessimistic philosophy, a philosophy based on his own observations in an unbiased form. He believed in fate and the “hand of Destiny,” finding his personal happiness in art and family.
Vilhjalmur Stefansson (pp. 66-67; 1879-1962; Canadian Artic explorer, ethnologist). He is unable to identify the meaning of life, but he rejects the other side that life has no meaning. The meaning of life, in his case, was in relation to food, which he called fuel, and how one felt after being fueled up (if you will).
Carl Laemmle (pp 70-73; 1867-1939; Film Producer). He recognized the potential influence of religion in his life but was not particularly religious. The thing that kept him going was work. “But the thing that keeps me going is the work itself and the sense of achievement.” He chose to be an optimist with a goal in life, one of which was taking care of his family. He was not convinced “truth will make one free”, but it was not the words of Jesus to which he referenced, but the idea.
Ernest Hopkins (pp. 73-76; 1877-1964; President of Dartmouth College (1911-1945)). He is the first of those who replied to give substance to religion, and nothing to the value of philosophy divorced of life’s daily activities. “The incapacity of philosophy to reign and rule seems to me to have been its obliviousness to human experience. It has therein failed to check the validity of its intellectual process” (75). Religion brings great value, but I have not been able to conclude from what he said just how religion brings substance; I do see, however, his thinking on philosophy (well informed) is that it is of lesser value.
Adolph S. Ochs (pp. 76-77; 1858-1935, American Newspaper Publisher, former owner of NY Times; Jewish). God played a significant role in his Jewish upbringing, and thus it gave him “sound moral principles” wherein he lived, worked and help others conscientiously.
Jawaharlal Nehru (pp. 78-81; 1889-1964; a student of Gandhi; Prime Minister of India). Though not used, he makes use of the sentiment of Solomon. “For your argument leads to the inevitable that all of life is futile and all human endeavor is useless” (78). He sees the difficulty of the inquiry posed to him, but he is unable to give an adequate answer. His own philosophy of life was as a socialist who knew there was more to life than mere logic and science. “I have believed in science and logic and reason, and I believe in them still, but at times they seem to lack something and life seems to be governed by other and stronger forces…” (80). Religion and metaphysics had little appeal to him, but action in life was his motivation to do: “But because I hope and believe that something can be done to better it [life], I continue to act” (81).
V. Raman (pp. 82-83; 1888-1970; Indian physicist, having won Nobel Prize for Physics). A short letter, but his religious sensibilities show forth. “…but the teachings of Buddha or Christ, if not taken too literally, have value which I recognize and which I believe time cannot diminish” (82-83). Life is not self-indulgent, but happiness is in self-control.
Mohandas Gandhi (pp. 83-84; 1869-1948). Gandhi’s reply was in bullet points, which included service to others; he looked on life as a gift from the divine, with religion and morality being synonymous terms.
John Haynes Holmes (pp. 85-87; 1879-1964; Preacher at the Community Church in New York (Unitarian); co-founder of NAACP and ACLU). Not once in his letter did he mention Jesus; he did mention a response to what he sees in life as wrong, unjust but he never said how he measured something to be wrong or unjust. If I have understood him correctly, it was like he looked at the grandeur of what good be and allowed this to motivate him toward that end to make a “what could be” to a “what is.”
Ernest Dimnet (pp. 88-93; 1866-1954; French priest, author of “The Art of Thinking”). He wrote as a teacher to a wayward student (Durant) about why and how he wondered off the path his parents set forth him with a religious way of thinking; Durant, Dimnet said, put too much faith in science; “Your scientific certainties bred pessimism; more distrust [of science] would have saved some hope and there is no hope without an admixture of faith” (93).
Mary E. Woolley (pp. 94-96; 1863-1947; President of Mt. Holyoke College; peace activists). She spoke more about Jesus than all the early contributors Durant included. “I think that if it were not for that [religion] I could not go on for I am more conscience of the suffering of the world, more troubled by it. I cannot quite understand how a human being can face life without a belief in a Supreme Power, a personality with communion can be a real thing. My creed is a simple one, with little theology embodied in it. Jesus Christ is to me the supreme revelation of Love and so of God, and His life an inspiration showing how a human life may be lived in kind if not in degree” (95).
Gina Lombroso (pp. 96-97; 1872-1944; Italian physician). “Love which ties us one to another, while living, which ties us to those that have left us, to our posterity” (97). In other words, though not mention of the Divine or religion, in her mind, the tie that binds is love. Love is the reason of life.
Helen Wills Moody (pp. 97-105; 1905-1998; Top professional tennis player). As a 25-year old answering, she considered herself uninformed to answer such an inquiry, but restless to seek perfection in some areas of life. Religion was to her crucial in giving peace, but the form of religion she loathed. The idea of forbiddance was not at all compatible with her disposition of seeking, learning and doing.
Bertrand Russell (p. 106; 1872-1970, philosopher, logician, mathematician). I marveled at his self-defeating reply to Durant. “I am sorry to say that at the moment I am so busy as to be convinced that life has no meaning whatever…I do not see that we can judge what would be the result of the discovery of truth, since none has hitherto been discovered.”
George Bernard Shaw (p. 107; 1856-1950; Irish Playwright). “How the devil do I know? Has the question itself any meaning?”
LETTERS TO A SUICIDE (pp. 111-134). This is an attempt of an atheistic or agnostic philosopher reasoning with one contemplating suicide, why it would be a mistake to take one’s life. Though the philosopher can’t give an answer to the meaning of life, he suspects there is one just the same. Though the philosopher thinks the mechanical philosophy of life is hopeless, he believes the lives of people are more than just machines. He does not believe man has an immortal soul, but that is no good reason to despair of life and commit suicide (pp. 114-5), especially if one dies because of a philosophical perspective, such a materialism. In an ever-so-brief scan of man’s tendency, the greatest disappoint to the philosopher is man’s moral fiber deteriorating (120), something he recognizes exist because of “the decay of supernatural belief,” but he is unable to offer anything better (122-3). Durant tries to give life meaning, but he knows that apart from the natural realm he can’t do it (127); so, from within the natural realm he tackles the idea. “The simplest meaning of life, then, is joy – the exhilaration of experience itself, of physical well-being” (124). “For to give life a meaning one must have a purpose larger than one’s self, and more enduring than one’s life” (127). In the following pages (128-133) he writes his own confession to what he thinks is the meaning of life and why. First, he rejects the idea of God, though he was raised with the teachings of Christianity. It’s interesting how he reflects of the pleasantries of that teaching and their meaningfulness, but at the time of his writing he had come to reject them. Second, he says meaning is in contributing to something outside oneself (128), but he is not able to say why this should be one’s personal philosophy; nonetheless, it does give meaning even if only temporary. He subscribes to because it benefits someone else. He brings his letter to suicide to a close (133-134), a letter that attempts to dissuade someone from suicide. He can’t say there is any meaning to life, but even still, the optimist in him says life is worth living. To the suicide contemplator, he said, engage in productive work and have a family that takes the mind off self.
APPENDIX: A letter from a Convict (pp. 137-144). From prison came an exceptionally well-written letter. The incarcerated man’s name was Owen C. Middleton. Durant’s letter was given to him and he replied. He answered the meaning of life is nothing more than what a person makes of it. “…life is worth just what I am willing to strive to make it worth” (138). He was an educated man, but his philosophy was more material than not. In his well-thought-out reply, he spoke of truth in a very significant way. “Truth is not beautiful, neither is it ugly. Why should it be either? Truth is truth, just as figures are figures” (139). Figures are facts of one’s business venture, whether good or bad. Based on those figures, one decides to do this or that. Truth is similar. In the end, the incarcerated man, thoughtful as he was, offered nothing different than those earlier replies Durant received.
MAKING SENSE OF IT: There is no meaning to life without there being meaning in life; but meaning in life is generated from one of two sources. It is either something generated from within, or it is something generated from without. In my estimate, Solomon sought to determine meaning to life from the source within (“under the sun”), but he could make no sense of it. He determined that meaning in life can only be understood when there is recognition that life comes from God, and only this way can one make sense of the perplexities of life that man has contributed to and corrupted so badly; and even then, he can hardly make sense of it. Nevertheless, the recognition that life came from God is important, but it is only the foundation from which one builds his/her life; the follow-up is to obey the “giver-of-life,” or God.
Though Will Durant did not believe God existed, he penned words that express a profound truth: “The greatest question of our time is not communism vs. individualism, not Europe vs. America, not even East vs. West; it is whether men can bear to live without God” (23).
Many people (most people) assign meaning to life, but they are not sure if the meaning individually assigned is correct, and British philosopher John Powys saw this clearly in his reply to Will Durant’s inquiry. In the meantime, a person does the best one can. In the end, however, one perhaps wonders why he/she even existed in the first place! What is my place in the world? Why was I born at this time and in this place? What did I do to make the world better? Why did I use this standard of right/wrong rather than that standard of right/wrong? Will anyone remember me? What is my legacy? On and one and on questions are asked. Without clarity of knowledge and understanding, the last remaining bit of hope is taken away when life is over because the individually assigned meaning is vanity.
Man cannot make sense of this which he does not understand. What he understands about evil can only be measured by a standard of good that is greater than himself and the cumulative wisdom of man; the only standard like that (of good) belongs to Him who is the Author of what is good. When man rejects the Author of what is good, he fails to understand. Try as he might, he can’t. Solomon illustrates this as well as anyone can…under the sun!
Houston, we have a problem! I am not sure if these words can be considered a quote of an Apollo launch into Space, but I seem to remember them this way. To say there is a problem is to speak about something that is not operating according to plan, something is not right in accordance with design.
Problems are a fact of life, but what some call a problem is nothing more than one’s opinion of how something should be done, why it should be done differently than is currently being done. For instance, have you heard someone say about you or some others, “You should visit more.”? It’s likely you have, and you can feel the weight of the remark because you agree that you should visit more. Well, let me ask, is there some obligating standard that says this, or is this just an opinion that resides within the one who said this to you? If it’s the former, what is that obligating standard? Perhaps some person says to you, as they take you aside, “We have a problem!” Well, okay, what is the problem? As you listen you notice there is no problem, but only a difference of opinion. Caught in an awkward situation, you try to figure a way out of the conversation because you notice this is nothing more than destructive talk toward another person.
Is there a problem? If there is, then let the problem be identified and measured against a standard that is more than a mere “I think.” With this approach, a true problem can then be given attention and fixed. If this occurs, then many personal relationships can be and will be nurtured, enhanced and strengthen.
Let me say a word or two about a real problem existing among Christians. What is a Christian? Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines the word “adherent of Christ” (p. 194); Baker Dictionary of the Bible defines it as “follower of Christ” (p. 297). Think about the definitions and consider the following questions. 1) Is one a Christian who is a practicing homosexual? 2) Is one a Christian who is engaged in talk that is dirty, vulgar and disparaging? 3) Is one a Christian who is intimately, sexually involved with another not his (her) spouse? 4) Is one a Christian who sees things of the world more interesting than the ways of Christ? 5) Is one a Christian who allows work to pull away from meeting with the saints? Questions like these, and many more, get to the heart of the problem for many people. They address the question of what is a Christian and, perhaps, focus on being a follower of Jesus. Too many, I am afraid, have a definition in mind that is nothing more than a redefining of the word. In other words, a Christian is not a follower of Christ in all regards, but one who is baptized, has some degree of loyalty to the local congregation, but not loyalty to the extent one’s life is drastically changed.
In Acts 7, as Stephen was preaching to a hardened people (just before he was stoned to death), he cites Scripture to point out the problem with those who say they are aligned with God; because they compromised the Lord’s way, the Lord “…turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon’” (Acts 7:42-43, ESV). In other words, they wanted alignment with the Lord and His way, but they did not shed the ways of man.
This is a real problem! So many there are who feign being a Christian, but do not want to hear, much less do, that which the Lord said. In truth, they only want to be accepted by a local church because of a sense of belonging. Those who think this way, who have identified themselves as a Christian, are just as lost as to whom Stephen spoke. They have a problem! RT