January 30, 2013
According to a study by Emory University, an average of 864,950 people attempt suicide every year. This means that one person attempts suicide every thirty-eight seconds. This alarming statistic shows how many people see life: pointless. They see good people suffering while the wicked thrive, and a plethora of other travesties that exist in the world. The book of Ecclesiastes seems to provide some insight into this grim matter. It conveys that life on earth is absolutely meaningless, that it is all smoke, so people should enjoy all that God has given. However, the purpose of the book is to warn God’s people that, even though they should enjoy themselves, their actions will be judged. For God’s people, there is really no good news.
Ecclesiastes opens with a description of the world. “Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.] There’s nothing to anything- it’s all smoke.”1 The author believes that everything on the earth is useless, and finds that there is nothing new. He goes on to address the fact that life is futile, and everything people do on earth is vanity. The Quester talks about how he built great houses and vineyards and parks but then realized that it was vanity.2 It was smoke. Another message conveyed in Ecclesiastes is that no one will be remembered. The Quester tells a story about a wise man who saved his small village from an attacking king. Despite the victory, the man was forgotten.3 The Quester’s conclusion in regard to all the vanity in the world is that people should just enjoy themselves. At the end of chapter five, the Quester states that the best way to live is to make the most of what God gives. People should have a good time. To quote the author, “That’s the human lot.”4
Given the grim message of Ecclesiastes, it is no surprise that the suicide attempt rate is as high as it is. A life with no higher purpose is hardly worth living. However, there is a purpose to the book. While Ecclesiastes is not meant to depress people, it serves as a warning to them. The final two verses clearly state, “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 judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil”5 The Quester warns the people of Israel that, while everything on earth is ultimately vanity, God will hold them accountable for all their actions. Reflecting on his own experience throughout the book, the author hopes to prevent God’s people from making the same mistakes he did.
While the warning was beneficial to Israel, there is really no good news for them in Ecclesiastes. As a matter of fact, it was bad news that God was going judge everyone’s actions. It is impossible to keep the multitude of Jewish laws, so everyone would suffer from God’s judgement. Ecclesiastes is just another reminder to the 864,950 people who attempt suicide and to everyone else of the grim fact that the world is fallen. As a solution, the Quester encourages his readers to enjoy life, but remember God’s coming judgement. “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”6
1 Ecclesiastes 1:2
2 Ecclesiastes 2:4-6
3 Ecclesiastes 9:13-15
4 Ecclesiastes 5:18b
5 Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
6 Ecclesiastes 12:13