My son, forget not my law; But let thy heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and years of life, And peace, will they add to the (Proverbs 3:1-2, ASV). A mother in all her years tries to give counsel to her children in such a way her counsel will not only be helpful in navigating the difficulties of life, but counsel that will help the children live a long and prosperous life. Parents like these can say they truly love their own children. This is not always the case, however. Some recent headline: “Police: Parents starve, bind, cage, 21-year-old disabled son” (7.11.2018), “’Faith healing’ parents plead guilty in newborn’s death” (7.10.2018), “Man convicted of attempted homicide in spiking of girlfriend’s drink with abortion pill” (8.2.2018). It is possible the second headline will generate more sympathy and/or understanding with these parents who were deceived by false religion; not likely one will say these parents did not love their child. This is hardly the case with the other two headlines. The problem with all three is their source of philosophy in life: man! With the Lord, however, the guide in life is His way. There is NO CHANCE a child, an adult or anyone will be hurt morally and or spiritually by the Lord’s way of thinking, for He gives guidance in life to instruct people away from moral failings, away from the pitfalls of life that others find themselves in. It is true, it must be admitted, some who have refused the Lord’s way will feel threatened by this way of thinking and seek to administered punishment to the others living in accordance with the Lord’s way. They did this to Jesus should be expected by those who love Him that will be done to those who love the Lord. Nevertheless, as one applies the Lord’s way, before him or her is understanding, moral protection, prosperity and long life. In place the Lord has set the components of life that is best for each.
- Part of God’s eternal plan (Eph. 3:1-12)
- To gather together into one body (Eph. 1:10)
- Subject to Christ in all respects (Eph. 1:22-23)
- All who are saved are within (Acts 2:47; Eph. 5:23, 26); there are no unsaved people in the Lord’s church.
- Pillar and Ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15)
- Name? Church of the Lord (Acts 20:28), Church of God (1 Cor. 1:2), Churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16), Church of the First-born (Heb. 12:23) – Acts 4:12
- What is wrong (sinful) about another name? a) The Holy Spirit condemned division (1 Cor. 1:10), b) To wear the name of a man is to be carnal (fleshly, worldly) thinking (1 Cor. 3:3-4), c) Would it be wrong for a man’s wife to wear the name of another man, not her husband? d) The church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:23-27).
- How to be a member of it? a) One must believe the gospel after having been taught it (Romans 10:17; Acts 18:8), b) With that belief in place, one must repent (turn away from) sins (Acts 2:38; 17:30-31; Luke 13:3, 5), c) Confess (acknowledge) Jesus as Lord in life (Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9-10), d) Be baptized (immersed) into the Lord, by the authority of the Lord (Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:3-7) for (with a view to) the forgiveness of sins (Acts 22:16; 2:38).
ESV – Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
ASV – Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.
WEYMOUTH – “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has placed you to take the oversight for Him and act as shepherds to the Church of God, which He has bought with His own blood.
WILLIAMS – Take care of yourselves and of the whole flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, so as to continue to be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.
Elders in the New Testament – so very important
- Paul spoke to Ephesians elders (also called bishops, presbyters, pastors and overseers).
- It was the Holy Spirit who put these men in position of responsibility; in the early church, as they were getting started, this was a miraculous endowment.
- As the church matured (Eph. 4:11-16), the Holy Spirit gave instructions pertaining to men qualified to serve in this God-ordained role (1 Tim, 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9).
- They were to shepherd, that is feed, the church that belongs to God, taking care of those souls “within,” resisting all error, making sure to pure word of God is taught by themselves and those in position of responsibility. The feeding in this context has nothing to do with physical sustenance, but spiritual.
- The church of the Lord belongs to no man, thus there is no man-made name given to the church; these came many years later.
- The Lord’s church belongs to the One who paid for it, and the price He paid was with His life (cf. Eph. 5:23, 25, 27).
1) If Scripture teaches God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, then any teaching which teaches God chooses only those He desires (limited atonement) to be saved is false. 2) The Scriptures teaches that God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4; 4:10), thus, 3) any teaching which teaches God chooses only those He desires (those to whom He limits His atonement) to be saved is false.
Calvinism teaches this
The evil philosophy of secular progressivism generates in society life as meaningless. What inherent value does the political philosophy of progressivism contribute to society? Because of it, the life of a child in the womb has no value; a natural progress from this is the life of man has no value. If one asserts to the contrary, what is the value of life when progressivism uses evolutionary philosophy has it core foundation from which to move? The advancement of science has many looking at life as completely absurd and meaningless. Technology is the religion of the day, and that religious ideology is completely a matter of self-absorption. How is the human condition in life improved by science and technology when science is nothing but organized knowledge to help explain (a value in and of itself), but scientists interpret the data with a completely meaningless philosophy of life (such as life coming from non-life)? And what can a person say about technology?
God is completely eliminated, or almost so, and many live life saying there is no point or accountability. It is progressivism (life has no accountable eventuality) that generates massive murders in society, even if the deranged person is a conservative in his own personal philosophy.
“What’s the point? Let me do much harm and run away with self-extinguishing practices, for there is no one to whom I am accountable!”
On the other hand, Godly wisdom FAR out paces benefits to and for the community, more so than liberal philosophy ever can. It is this way, because liberal philosophy seeks to liberate constraints in many areas of life, one of which is moral guidance. It is self-interest in the immediate that is the focus, not the interests of others toward the end of life. This is empty.
My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
The thesis of this essay: the meaning of life is from God, one’s meaning in life is moving directly back to God.
“The religious impulse, the quest for meaning that transcends the restricted space of empirical existence in this world, has been a perennial feature of humanity.”
Since man’s life is from one of two sources (God, not-God), meaning in life must be determined in relation to these two sources. If for one the source is not-God, then meaning is strictly the perspective of the individual; submissions to the question “what is the meaning of life?” found in such books like Will Durant’s On the meaning of life and periodicals like New Philosopher: What is the meaning of life? holds sway, which is to say that no one knows what meaning there is to and in life!
If life did not come from God, then answers that people construct to give meaning are viable and “right” as any answer given by another. The answers constructed, presumably, help one get-a-long in a meaningless world; it helps to make one’s meaningless life worth living! You are, in ultimate and practical terms, nothing more than a cockroach to be squashed.
You can hardly accept this, I am sure. You value your life far more than mechanical philosophers do, more than an atheistic materialist does, but if you accept the source of not-God, then to the material (“matter-in-motion”) realm of philosophy you (must) reside. The non-material substance of man (conscience) floats out-there-in-material-space. How rewarding!
Recently I came across the periodical New Philosopher (Issue 19 Feb-April 2018); within its pages are contributors who wrote anecdotal remarks on life’s meaning. Those answers ranged from being compassionate, act better, “something like truth,” little things, flourishing, connection and compassion, one needs to make his/her own meaning, meaning does not exist, have no regrets at end of day, make the world a better place, live in the moment, live honestly, thoughtfully and with compassion, to love, feel wonder and laugh.
I don’t recall a single reply that had substance (ultimate substance) for why one should live in these sorts of ways as suggested by the anecdotal remarks.
I thought I would compare the above replies in New Philosopher to the replies given in Will Durant’s book (mentioned above). In Durant’s book, the answers ranged from finding meaning in poetry, life has no meaning, life might very-well be absurd, one does not know, meaning is in the individual, meaning is uncertain, music or in some other construct of one’s own, life has value but does not need religion to make it that way; ethics and morality is a matter of social convenience and one medical doctor called humanity “human insects.”
With such a broad range of answers, can one know the answer to the question “what is the meaning of life?” No!
Thoughtfulness, as exhibited in the many answers given to the question, is in relation to one’s own search and thinking; some have looked at the writings of others, some paid attention to how other people live, most seemed to have concluded that life has no meaning except what one makes of it. These same thoughtful people arrive at this depressing philosophy of life, concluding that life is nothing more than happen-chance. Thoughtful people (in the periodical and book mentioned) seek an answer to this age-old question. Answers come from varied backgrounds such as a medical doctor, attorney, teacher, philosophy professor, and many other walks of life.
In the recent issue of the periodical New Philosopher, I especially looked for a rationale, the foundation in which the answers given by the contributors sprung (or were based), an answer that was more than anything others in this world have offered before; I saw nothing different; one might say, there was nothing new under the sun in the answers given. I saw much “one should do this,” but I saw little to under-gird why “one should do this” and nothing in the way of attention given to any consequences experienced if “one did not so this.” What is the consequence of these exhortations being done or not done? To what end and why should I engage in life as you proffer?
As best I could tell, each contributor answered the question of life’s meaning from the vantage point of “under the sun” or atheistic naturalism, the meaningless philosophy that says life came from non-life (a violation of the law of biogenesis). With this philosophy in place, cryonics persuades some, suicide is encouraged by others, moral behavior is strictly situational and hedonistic. If one argues against each or any one of the failings of these approaches, on what basis will they argue?
“We feel that the man who brings widespread happiness at the expense of misery to himself is a better man than the who brings unhappiness to others and happiness to himself. I do not know of any rational ground for this view, or, perhaps, for the somewhat more rational view that whatever the majority desires is preferable to what the minority desires.”
Answering the question “what the meaning of life is?” drove me to seek an answer for years. At the start, in 1983, I hardly recognized the question, much less any substantive answer, but as I look back on it all, though not realizing it, I was seeking an answer to the question. I looked for meaning when I had desire for acceptance, I looked for meaning when I had desire to be loved, I looked for meaning when I had desire to gain wisdom, I looked for meaning when I had desire to achieve economic independence, I looked for meaning in pursuing work to provide for me and my family. In all this, the lessons learned, and the values gained, accomplishment in these areas do not (did not) give ultimate meaning to life.
In Idaho I enrolled at Boise State University, taking classes in philosophy looking for depth of study and meaning in life, but it was there I learned philosophers like to generate questions with no real desire for answers. It seemed the only desire philosophers sought was to parse sentences and words, and to debate the viability of someone else’s answer!
By this time, I already decided to be a Christian (1983). Philosophy gave me no answer, my knowledge in Christianity at the time brought no answer; somewhere along this line I started formulating the question in my mind “what is the meaning of life?” Surely, I thought, there was an answer and the answer available, I hoped, did not have to be profound. Frustrated as I was I knew only to stay the course I was already on because in the two areas of study that I enjoyed most, philosophy and Christian doctrine, I found satisfaction – albeit limited.
As I journeyed, I came upon one of my great enjoyments, reading the written (transcribed) oral debates between atheists and theists. Such debates as the Thomas Warren-Anthony Flew Debate (1976), the Thomas Warren-Wallace Matson Debate (1978), the Thomas Warren-Joe Barnhart Debate (1980). Thomas Warren did more to influence me away from the meaninglessness and hopelessness of materialistic atheism, sometimes called naturalism, than any man in print. He set forth his arguments in strict syllogistic form, knowing that if each premise is proven, the conclusion is demanded. Powerful! Two other debates from which I gained much was the Craig – Simon/Armstrong Debate and the J. P. Moreland-Kai Nelson Debate. Each of these debates are books are re-read occasionally.
A great find in 1999 was an old copy of Will Durant’s book On the Meaning of Life. I devoured the contents of the book, only to learn he said nothing except that which the greatest minds in the world have said before him.
Durant’s book addressed the “bitterest possibilities” of painting a life without God. He said, “I would not have this letter taken as expressing very accurately my own conclusions on the meaning of our existence; I cannot find it in my nature to be so despondent. But I wished to confront at the outset the bitterest possibilities…” the meaning of life without God (6). The picture he painted in the letter he sent out to people of academic attainment or attainments in other areas of life paints the issue this way: “The 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).
What did he conclude? “Is it possible to catch the meaning of life without getting outside of it to judge it, or with seeing it as part of a larger whole? – and which of us can do that? This is a merry termination of our quest [answering the question ”on the meaning of life”], a disturbing illustration of the old definition of metaphysics as ‘a search in a dark hole for a rat that is not there’” (107).
THE MEANING TO LIFE AND MY DRIVE
Imagine my pleasure in April 2018 when I came upon the magazine New Philosopher: “What is the meaning of life?” Perhaps something in the answers to the inquiry in this issue would be different than the ones given almost 90 years earlier. But I learned the answers given in 1932 are not much different than the ones given in 2018. The words written in Durant’s book are much the same as those contributors in the Feb-April 2018 issue of the New Philosopher. Truthfully, I did not expect the answers to be different, though I wondered if they might.
From the vantage point of “under the sun,” much is the same as that which Solomon thought during his time on this earth. The difference between the meaninglessness of man’s wisdom and that which Solomon proposed is in the source of life. I mentioned earlier that to answer the question, one’s answer comes from one of two foundation starting points, God or not-God. One foundation point will be with the perspective that life comes from God; the other foundation point is with the perspective that life comes from non-life. From the vantage point of under the sun, or the vantage of man’s wisdom without God, life has no meaning (as is evidenced in New Philosopher and Will Durant’s book). On the other hand, from the vantage point of under the sun and the source of life being God, the answer is different and far more meaningful.
The words of Solomon materialist philosophers reject, but the same materialists who reject are unable to offer anything better. If they offer similar answers (and they might), it’s not possible for them to know this is the best course of action to take, they can only guess or hope that it is. Moreover, as far as they are concerned, there is no consequence if one chooses a different course or path. Additionally, it does no good for one to say in reply to the Christian, “My answer is the same as yours and, therefore, just as substantive,” for while this may be the case as far as practical substance is concerned, the difference is the source and where meaning is found.
What did Solomon say on meaning in life in his treatise? His journey is in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and it is here that he saw how life produces much vanity. The vanity, however, in is in relation to one’s failure to explain the perplexities life presents. The wind travels in a circuit, why? The accumulation of wisdom generates more questions than answers, why? Laughter is not really any better than much sorrow, why? Work brings satisfaction, but not satisfaction that is greater than the moment, why? Why does not wealth answer the problems of life? The impoverished person is more at ease with himself than the wealthy, why? What advantage does wisdom give to the longevity of life over the fool? Is there any value to the fool living as long as the wise? These are matters to which Solomon gave attention.
Solomon had direction in his life, but he wandered off the path of a meaningful life to engage in hedonism (self-indulgence); he saw in life much uselessness, that is why he called life vain. However, is life really vain? As he journeyed, he saw life for how it is, but then for how it needs to be seen and experienced. He saw that meaninglessness (vanity) is directly related to man’s corrupted philosophy (7:29). Solomon begins by setting out to identify that which is “good” for man to pursue. He looks at what can be called “good” from a vantage point much different than meaningless-mechanical-materialistic philosophy, or under the sun atheism presents. He looked at what can be called “good” in direct relation to God, the source from which life comes.
No explanations to the many perplexities of life, Solomon noticed, but life lived with direction to God is far better than life lived wandering about in a meaningless world, or life without God. Wisdom taught him this much!
There is much value in that in which a person engages, in the work he produces to benefit self and others (2:10). The work done from the vantage point of under the sun (naturalism) is of no lasting value for the one who labors at it, for while there will be much limited “good” that comes from it, in and of itself, work is meaningless. Work in relation to something greater than self can be of great value even in a meaningless world, but so what? Toward what end does it serve?
On the other hand, life is a gift from God, not something of the non-sensical “life-from-non-life” philosophy that generates no real meaning or purpose that moves one toward an ultimate benefit at the end of life. But to make life meaningful, to have purpose in this dark world, something more than work will be helpful. Solomon spoke of one’s disposition while engaged in a vocation (2:24-26; 3:12-13). This is directly related to contentment. In practical terms, is there something better than producing for oneself and those around him?
Work plus productivity generates benefits for others; happiness or satisfaction can be and should be generated by the one engaged in productivity. There is something to be proud of (to borrow a line from a song) in this. Solomon speak of this as one’s heritage, or portion in life (5:18-20). In his contentment he chooses to live life understanding physical life is a gift from God (8:15), and not allow himself to be burdened with matters of little value in a world of much perplexity.
Solomon asked an important question: For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? (Ecclesiastes 6:12, ESV). If one listens to a materialistic philosopher, he/she will tell you what is “good” in life, or at least what they think is good – but how do they know? They don’t; they can only guess. Solomon was one who thought on a grandeur scale than naturalists, one who included God in the foundation of his thinking, knowing His existence and the judgment man will face from Him who is the Creator of life when his individual life is over. With this before him, he still did not know.
From the exclusive vantage point of “under the sun,” how could he?
Those who consider themselves philosophers or deep thinkers since the time of Solomon have arrived at the same answer, the answer “How the devil do I know?” What Solomon did know, however, is that man is corrupt in his thinking, and a corrupted-thinking-man can’t know what the good is, except a “corrupted good,” if there is such a thing.
Life has meaning in family (9:9-10) and in the work in which one is engaged. To give thought to unnecessary things in the natural world (like Solomon did) is to encourage depression and defeatism. Since life is a gift from God, and God gave man the capacity to work, let him work to provide for himself and others, such as his family. Let him content himself in making a difference in his “little corner of the world.”
So, two philosophical approaches before us in answering the question “what is the meaning of life.” One approach is life came from non-life (not-God), and this approach gives empty answers, is meaninglessness and directionless. The other approach is life came from life (God), and this approach gives an answer, an answer that is not only meaningful in the immediate circumstances of life, but an answer that moves one in a direction toward God. We will all die one day, and the gift of life given is going to return to the Giver of life; this is called judgment. The wise man, in this case Solomon, learned the whole purpose of man is to fear God, for to Him he will give an account (12:13-14).
Thus, the meaning of life is life from God, and the meaning in life is man trying to get back to God; everything else is vanity. RT
 Peter Berger, p. 176, quoted by Dinesh D’Souza in his book What So Great About Christianity.
 “There are no exceptions to a law of science” (Dr. Jeff Miller, Science vs. Evolution, Apologetics Press, 2018, p. 9).
 Bertrand Russell in Katharine Tait’s My Father Bertrand Russell, (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1975, p. 182.
 The Warren-Flew Debate, National Christian Press (1977); reprinted by the Warren Christian Apologetics Center, 40th Anniversary Edition (2016).
 The Warren-Matson Debate, National Christian Press; Jonesboro, AR (1978).
 The Warren-Barnhart Debate, National Christian Press; Jonesboro, AR (1981).
 God: A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong; Oxford University Press (2004)
 Does God Exist? The Great Debate, J. P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen, Thomas Nelson, Nashville (1990).
 On the Meaning of Life, Will Durant: Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc. 1932, New York
 New Philosopher, Issue 19: Feb-April 2018, 130 Macquarie St., Hobart TAS 7000 Australia
 G. Bernard Shaw, On the Meaning of Life, p. 107
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
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!
Summary – this 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, Michael Eaton, Roland Murphey, Ian Provan. 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. Man in his wisdom thinks he understands, but Solomon in his wisdom, a greater wisdom than any man who ever walked on the earth (short of Jesus) had a better understanding.
CHAPTERS 1 – 6
- Under the sun, 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 (chapter 1).
- Under the sun, 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 (chapter 2).
- Under the sun, there is a proper time for this and for that, and man recognizes a big-picture to life (Dorsey), but under the sun God tests man for him to see that he can’t figure out the big-picture and he is no greater than the beasts of the field; at the proper time God’s judgment comes (chapter 3).
- Oppression, laziness, loneliness, and failure to heed wisdom, all of this from the perspective of under the sun is grasping for the wind (chapter 4).
- Under the sun, walk reverently and with fear before God; doing so means life is understood as God’s gift, and the vanities of life will all come to an end (chapter 5).
- Under the sun, man can’t know what the good life is; he sees all about him the evil in the world, taking notice that as God gave, God took away (chapter 6).
What is the good life? Is it a life of contemplation, an accumulated wisdom that belongs to man then rests on a single individual? Solomon considered such; his conclusion (through chapter 6) is found in 2:24-26, 3:12, 5:1, 12, 19