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    625
    Ecclesiastes for Humanists

    To Sum Up The Whole Matter...

    Introduction

    If you're a cynic and struggling to make sense of life, you'll love the book I have to share with you. You might not like it's conclusion but you'll be forced to admit that the philosopher is accurate in his observations because they're the kinds of scientific, commonsense observations that believers and unbelievers alike have been making for as lomng as the human race has been around. What he shares is common to every single human being that has ever lived or ever will live, high or low, intelligent or stupid.

    The writer of this book, generally regarded to have been Solomon (though knowing who is is is not that important), is familiar to everyone, so no introduction is needed here. In the translation below he is simply called the 'Qoheleth'. He really could have been anyone in any age and of any religion or no religion at all, which is why many who would never touch a Bible make an exception in this case. Unlike most people, the writer had both the financial means and political power to pursue what most humans simply dream of and strive for, so he could take his dreams to their conclusion and observe the results. He tried wisdom (intellectualism), pleasure, alcohol, human achievement, the fruits of great riches, and sex (at least 1,000 women were at his disposal) but concluded that all of this just led to emptiness.

    Like many people of religious or no religious persuasion, he was deeply troubled by injustice in this life. Many good men and women suffer and the wicked prosper in their wickedness. Regardless of how righteously a man tries to live, he ends up in the same grave as any other man...or animal! A man can do all the right things, but apparent chance can cancel it all out.

    The pessimism of this book is as pronounced as the optimism of the Bible book that goes before it (Proverbs). Only at the very end does the author tell us his conclusion and what he has discovered to be the real source of meaning in life. Leaving God out of the picture in his search for happiness, he came to discover what all honest atheists and humanists eventually discover, if they can bear to face the truth - and that truth is this: In any life where God does not play an effective part, is a closed system where life is ultimately utterly meaningless and unjust. There is no other conclusion. So this book is 100% for the secular humanist and challenges him to look at his lifestyle objectively.

    The person writing this is a scientist and formerly an atheist and evolutionist. Though I could talk science, today I just want to talk philosophy, common sense and objective reality. If you do this you will inevitably conclude, if you exclude God from the picture, that man's inward thoughts and struggles lead ultimately to emptiness and futility. I guarantee it. The most you can hope for is that you'll live on in someone's memory. But remember, unless you become really famous you will probably be forgotten within a generation and any good you may have done will have been forgotten. What people have gained from your efforts to do good will be forgotten and unappreciated. Then you will realise that all material things are temporary and transitory.

    I don't normally write in such a depressing way. However, what we're doing is analysing life without God in the long term. It's easy to be an atheists while things are going good but when they're not it's pretty tough. And then there's the final act - death - which no one can pass by casually. It could hit you at any time, you just never know. Of course you could just treat all of this in cavalier fashion and just entrust yourself to fate - but when you come to death's door you'll find absolutely no comfort in these. Even the rallying cry, "live life, and live it to its fullest" will seem empty and futile. Most people run a race to get a prize - people don't train as olympic or professional athletes, for example, if they don't have the hope of the prize, whether of money or just winning and getting public accolades! Who would run such a race, let alone train for it with sweat and tears, if there was no possibility of something at the end of it? A fool, perhaps? It is one thing to "live for the moment" but if there is nothing at the end of life, then there is no hope. And a soul cannot live for one second without hope. That's why most atheists and humanists bury this question and refuse to consider it, and leave it until it is often too late.

    So, please pause for half an hour and read the book that follows and then I will have a few more words to say.


    The Book of Ecclesiastes
    New Jerusalem Bible Translation
    Chapter 1
    1 Composition of Qoheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem.
    2 Sheer futility, Qoheleth says. Sheer futility: everything is futile!
    3 What profit can we show for all our toil, toiling under the sun?
    4 A generation goes, a generation comes, yet the earth stands firm for ever.
    5 The sun rises, the sun sets; then to its place it speeds and there it rises.
    6 Southward goes the wind, then turns to the north; it turns and turns again; then back to its circling goes the wind.
    7 Into the sea go all the rivers, and yet the sea is never filled, and still to their goal the rivers go.
    8 All things are wearisome. No one can say that eyes have not had enough of seeing, ears their fill of hearing.
    9 What was, will be again, what has been done, will be done again, and there is nothing new under the sun!
    10 Take anything which people acclaim as being new: it existed in the centuries preceding us.
    11 No memory remains of the past, and so it will be for the centuries to come -- they will not be remembered by their successors.
    12 I, Qoheleth, have reigned over Israel in Jerusalem.
    13 Wisely I have applied myself to investigation and exploration of everything that happens under heaven. What a wearisome task God has given humanity to keep us busy!
    14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun: how futile it all is, mere chasing after the wind!
    15 What is twisted cannot be straightened, what is not there cannot be counted.
    16 I thought to myself: I have acquired a greater stock of wisdom than anyone before me in Jerusalem. I myself have mastered every kind of wisdom and science.
    17 I have applied myself to understanding philosophy and science, stupidity and folly, and I now realise that all this too is chasing after the wind.
    18 Much wisdom, much grief; the more knowledge, the more sorrow.

    Chapter 2
    1 I thought to myself, 'Very well, I will try pleasure and see what enjoyment has to offer.' And this was futile too.
    2 This laughter, I reflected, is a madness, this pleasure no use at all.
    3 I decided to hand my body over to drinking wine, my mind still guiding me in wisdom; I resolved to embrace folly, to discover the best way for people to spend their days under the sun.
    4 I worked on a grand scale: built myself palaces, planted vineyards;
    5 made myself gardens and orchards, planting every kind of fruit tree in them;
    6 had pools made for watering the young trees of my plantations.
    7 I bought slaves, male and female, had home-born slaves as well; herds and flocks I had too, more than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
    8 I amassed silver and gold, the treasures of kings and provinces; acquired singers, men and women, and every human luxury, chest upon chest of it.
    9 So I grew great, greater than anyone in Jerusalem before me; nor did my wisdom leave me.
    10 I denied my eyes nothing that they desired, refused my heart no pleasure, for I found all my hard work a pleasure, such was the return for all my efforts.
    11 I then reflected on all that my hands had achieved and all the effort I had put into its achieving. What futility it all was, what chasing after the wind! There is nothing to be gained under the sun.
    12 My reflections then turned to wisdom, stupidity and folly. For instance, what can the successor of a king do? What has been done already.
    13 More is to be gained from wisdom than from folly, just as one gains more from light than from darkness; this, of course, I see:
    14 The wise have their eyes open, the fool walks in the dark. No doubt! But I know, too, that one fate awaits them both.
    15 'Since the fool's fate', I thought to myself, 'will be my fate too, what is the point of my having been wise?' I realised that this too is futile.
    16 For there is no lasting memory for the wise or the fool, and in the days to come both will be forgotten; the wise, no less than the fool, must die.
    17 Life I have come to hate, for what is done under the sun disgusts me, since all is futility and chasing after the wind.
    18 All I have toiled for under the sun and now bequeath to my successor I have come to hate;
    19 who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all the work into which I have put my efforts and wisdom under the sun. That is futile too.
    20 I have come to despair of all the efforts I have expended under the sun.
    21 For here is one who has laboured wisely, skilfully and successfully and must leave what is his own to someone who has not toiled for it at all. This is futile too, and grossly unjust;
    22 for what does he gain for all the toil and strain that he has undergone under the sun-
    23 since his days are full of sorrow, his work is full of stress and even at night he has no peace of mind? This is futile too.
    24 There is no happiness except in eating and drinking, and in enjoying one's achievements; and I see that this too comes from God's hand;
    25 for who would get anything to eat or drink, unless all this came from him?
    26 Wisdom, knowledge and joy, God gives to those who please him, but on the sinner he lays the task of gathering and storing up for someone else who is pleasing to him. This too is futility and chasing after the wind.

    Chapter 3
    1 There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven:
    2 A time for giving birth, a time for dying; a time for planting, a time for uprooting what has been planted.
    3 A time for killing, a time for healing; a time for knocking down, a time for building.
    4 A time for tears, a time for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing.
    5 A time for throwing stones away, a time for gathering them; a time for embracing, a time to refrain from embracing.
    6 A time for searching, a time for losing; a time for keeping, a time for discarding.
    7 A time for tearing, a time for sewing; a time for keeping silent, a time for speaking.
    8 A time for loving, a time for hating; a time for war, a time for peace.
    9 What do people gain from the efforts they make?
    10 I contemplate the task that God gives humanity to labour at.
    11 All that he does is apt for its time; but although he has given us an awareness of the passage of time, we can grasp neither the beginning nor the end of what God does.
    12 I know there is no happiness for a human being except in pleasure and enjoyment through life.
    13 And when we eat and drink and find happiness in all our achievements, this is a gift from God.
    14 I know that whatever God does will be for ever. To this there is nothing to add, from this there is nothing to subtract, and the way God acts inspires dread.
    15 What is, has been already, what will be, is already; God seeks out anyone who is persecuted.
    16 Again I observe under the sun: crime is where justice should be, the criminal is where the upright should be.
    17 And I think to myself: the upright and the criminal will both be judged by God, since there is a time for every thing and every action here.
    18 I think to myself: where human beings are concerned, this is so that God can test them and show them that they are animals.
    19 For the fate of human and the fate of animal is the same: as the one dies, so the other dies; both have the selfsame breath. Human is in no way better off than animal -- since all is futile.
    20 Everything goes to the same place, everything comes from the dust, everything returns to the dust.
    21 Who knows if the human spirit mounts upward or if the animal spirit goes downward to the earth?
    22 I see there is no contentment for a human being except happiness in achievement; such is the lot of a human beings. No one can tell us what will happen after we are gone.

    Chapter 4
    1 Then again, I contemplate all the oppression that is committed under the sun. Take for instance the tears of the oppressed. No one to comfort them! The power their oppressors wield. No one to comfort them!
    2 So, rather than the living who still have lives to live, I congratulate the dead who have already met death;
    3 happier than both of these are those who are yet unborn and have not seen the evil things that are done under the sun.
    4 I see that all effort and all achievement spring from mutual jealousy. This too is futility and chasing after the wind.
    5 The fool folds his arms and eats his own flesh away.
    6 Better one hand full of repose than two hands full of achievements to chase after the wind.
    7 And something else futile I observe under the sun:
    8 a person is quite alone -- no child, no brother; and yet there is no end to his efforts, his eyes can never have their fill of riches. For whom, then, do I work so hard and grudge myself pleasure? This too is futile, a sorry business.
    9 Better two than one alone, since thus their work is really rewarding.
    10 If one should fall, the other helps him up; but what of the person with no one to help him up when he falls?
    11 Again: if two sleep together they keep warm, but how can anyone keep warm alone?
    12 Where one alone would be overcome, two will put up resistance; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
    13 Better a youngster poor and wise than a monarch old and silly who will no longer take advice-
    14 even though stepping from prison to the throne, even though born a beggar in that kingdom.
    15 I observe that all who live and move under the sun support the young newcomer who takes over.
    16 He takes his place at the head of innumerable subjects; but his successors will not think the more kindly of him for that. This too is futile and chasing after the wind.
    17 Watch your step when you go to the House of God: drawing near to listen is better than the offering of a sacrifice by fools, though they do not know that they are doing wrong.

    Chapter 5
    1 Be in no hurry to speak; do not hastily declare yourself before God; for God is in heaven, you on earth. Be sparing, then, of speech:
    2 From too much worrying comes illusion, from too much talking, the accents of folly.
    3 If you make a vow to God, discharge it without delay, for God has no love for fools. Discharge your vow.
    4 Better a vow unmade than made and not discharged.
    5 Do not allow your mouth to make a sinner of you, and do not say to the messenger that it was a mistake. Why give God occasion to be angry with you and ruin all the work that you have done?
    6 From too many illusions come futility and too much talk. Therefore, fear God.
    7 If in a province you see the poor oppressed, fair judgement and justice violated, do not be surprised, for over every official there watches a higher official, and over these, higher officials still.
    8 But what the land yields is for the benefit of all, a king is served by the fields.
    9 No one who loves money ever has enough, no one who loves luxury has any income; this, too, is futile.
    10 Where goods abound, parasites abound: where is the owner's profit, apart from feasting his eyes?
    11 The labourer's sleep is sweet, whether he has eaten little or much, but the surfeit of the rich will not let him sleep at all.
    12 Something grossly unjust I observe under the sun: riches stored and turning to loss for their owner.
    13 An unlucky venture, and those riches are lost; a son is born to him, and he has nothing to leave him.
    14 Naked from his mother's womb he came; as naked as he came will he depart; not one of his achievements can he take with him.
    15 And something else grossly unjust: that as he came, so must he go; what profit can he show after toiling to earn the wind,
    16 as he spends the rest of his days in darkness, mourning, many sorrows, sickness and exasperation.
    17 So my conclusion is this: true happiness lies in eating and drinking and enjoying whatever has been achieved under the sun, throughout the life given by God: for this is the lot of humanity.
    18 And whenever God gives someone riches and property, with the ability to enjoy them and to find contentment in work, this is a gift from God.
    19 For such a person will hardly notice the passing of time, so long as God keeps his heart occupied with joy.

    Chapter 6
    1 I see another evil under the sun, which goes hard with people:
    2 suppose someone has received from God riches, property, honours -- nothing at all left to wish for; but God does not give the chance to enjoy them, and some stranger enjoys them. This is futile, and grievous suffering too.
    3 Or take someone who has had a hundred children and lived for many years, and, having reached old age, has never enjoyed the good things of life and has not even got a tomb; it seems to me, a still-born child is happier.
    4 In futility it came, into darkness it departs, and in darkness will its name be buried.
    5 It has never so much as seen or known the sun; all the same, it will rest more easily than that person,
    6 who would never have known the good things of life, even by living a thousand years twice over. Do we not all go to the same place in the end?
    7 All toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is never satisfied.
    8 What advantage has the wise over the fool? And what of the pauper who knows how to behave in society?
    9 Better the object seen than the sting of desire: for the latter too is futile and chasing after the wind.
    10 What has been is already defined -- we know what people are: They cannot bring to justice one who is stronger than themselves.
    11 The more we say, the more futile it is: what good can we derive from it?
    12 And who knows what is best for someone during life, during the days of futile life which are spent like a shadow? Who can tell anyone what will happen after him under the sun?

    Chapter 7
    1 Better a good name than costly oil, the day of death than the day of birth.
    2 Better go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting; for to this end everyone comes, let the living take this to heart.
    3 Better sadness than laughter: a joyful heart may be concealed behind sad looks.
    4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, the heart of fools in the house of gaiety.
    5 Better attend to the reprimand of the wise than listen to a song sung by a fool.
    6 For like the crackling of thorns under the cauldron is the laughter of fools: and that too is futile.
    7 But being oppressed drives a sage mad, and a present corrupts the heart.
    8 Better the end of a matter than its beginning, better patience than ambition.
    9 Do not be too easily exasperated, for exasperation dwells in the heart of fools.
    10 Do not ask why the past was better than the present, for this is not a question prompted by wisdom.
    11 Wisdom is as good as a legacy, profitable to those who enjoy the light of the sun.
    12 For as money protects, so does wisdom, and the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom bestows life on those who possess her.
    13 Consider God's creation: who, for instance, can straighten what God has bent?
    14 When things are going well, enjoy yourself, and when they are going badly, consider this: God has designed the one no less than the other so that we should take nothing for granted.
    15 In my futile life, I have seen everything: the upright person perishing in uprightness and the wicked person surviving in wickedness.
    16 Do not be upright to excess and do not make yourself unduly wise: why should you destroy yourself?
    17 Do not be wicked to excess, and do not be a fool: why die before your time?
    18 It is wise to hold on to one and not let go of the other, since the godfearing will find both.
    19 Wisdom makes the wise stronger than a dozen governors in a city.
    20 No one on earth is sufficiently upright to do good without ever sinning.
    21 Again, do not listen to all that people say, then you will not hear your servant abusing you.
    22 For often, as you very well know, you have abused others.
    23 Thanks to wisdom, I have found all this to be true; I resolved to be wise, but this was beyond my reach!
    24 The past is out of reach, buried deep -- who can discover it?
    25 But I have reached the point where, having learnt, explored and investigated wisdom and reflection, I recognise evil as being a form of madness, and folly as something stupid.
    26 And I find woman more bitter than Death, she is a snare, her heart is a net, and her arms are chains. The man who is pleasing to God eludes her, but the sinner is captured by her.
    27 This is what I think, says Qoheleth, having examined one thing after another to draw some conclusion,
    28 which I am still looking for, although unsuccessfully: one man in a thousand, I may find, but a woman better than other women-never.
    29 This alone is my conclusion: God has created man straightforward, and human artifices are human inventions.

    Chapter 8
    1 Who compares with the sage? Who else knows how to explain things? Wisdom lights up the face, enlivening a grim expression.
    2 Obey the king's command and, because of the divine promise,
    3 be in no hurry to depart from it; do not be obstinate in a bad cause, since the king will do as he likes in any case.
    4 Since the word of a king is sovereign, what is the point of saying, 'Why do that?'
    5 One who obeys the command will come to no harm; the heart of the sage knows the right moment and verdict,
    6 for there is a right moment and verdict for everything; but misfortune lies heavy upon anyone
    7 who does not know what the outcome will be, no one is going to say how things will turn out.
    8 No one can control the wind and stop it from blowing, no one can control the day of death. From war there is no escape, no more can wickedness save the person who commits it.
    9 I have seen all this to be so, having carefully studied everything taking place under the sun, while one person tyrannises over another to the former's detriment.
    10 And again, I have observed the wicked carried to their graves, and people leaving the holy place and, once out in the city, forgetting how the wicked used to behave; how futile this is too!
    11 Because the sentence on the evil-doer is not carried out on the instant, people's hearts are full of desire to do wrong.
    12 The sinner who does wrong a hundred times lives on. But this too I know, that there is good in store for people who fear God, because they fear him,
    13 but there is no good in store for the wicked because he does not fear God, and so, like a shadow, he will not prolong his days.
    14 Another futile thing that happens on earth: upright people being treated as though they were wicked and wicked people being treated as though they were upright. To me this is one more example of futility.
    15 And therefore I praise joy, since human happiness lies only in eating and drinking and in taking pleasure; this comes from what someone achieves during the days of life that God gives under the sun.
    16 Having applied myself to acquiring wisdom and to observing the activity taking place in the world -- for day and night our eyes enjoy no rest-
    17 I have scrutinised God's whole creation: you cannot get to the bottom of everything taking place under the sun; you may wear yourself out in the search, but you will never find it. Not even a sage can get to the bottom of it, even if he says that he has done so.

    < Chapter 9
    1 Yes, I have applied myself to all this and experienced all this to be so: that is to say, that the upright and the wise, with their activities, are in the hands of God. We do not understand either love or hate, where we are concerned, both of them are futile. And for all of us is reserved a common fate, for the upright and for the wicked, for the food and for the bad; whether we are ritually pure or not, whether we offer sacrifice or not: it is the same for the good and for the sinner, for someone who takes a vow, as for someone who fears to do so.
    2 futile. And for all of us is reserved a common fate, for the upright and for the wicked, for the good and for the bad; whether we are ritually pure or not, whether we offer sacrifice or not: it is the same for the good and for the sinner, for someone who takes a vow, as for someone who fears to do so.
    3 This is another evil among those occurring under the sun: that there should be the same fate for everyone. The human heart, however, is full of wickedness; folly lurks in our hearts throughout our lives, until we end among the dead.
    4 But there is hope for someone still linked to the rest of the living: better be a live dog than a dead lion.
    5 The living are at least aware that they are going to die, but the dead know nothing whatever. No more wages for them, since their memory is forgotten.
    6 Their love, their hate, their jealousy, have perished long since, and they will never have any further part in what goes on under the sun.
    7 So, eat your bread in joy, drink your wine with a glad heart, since God has already approved your actions.
    8 At all times, dress in white and keep your head well scented.
    9 Spend your life with the woman you love, all the days of futile life God gives you under the sun, throughout your futile days, since this is your lot in life and in the effort you expend under the sun.
    10 Whatever work you find to do, do it with all your might, for there is neither achievement, nor planning, nor science, nor wisdom in Sheol where you are going.
    11 Another thing I have observed under the sun: that the race is not won by the speediest, nor the battle by the champions; it is not the wise who get food, nor the intelligent wealth, nor the learned favour: chance and mischance befall them all.
    12 We do not know when our time will come: like fish caught in the treacherous net, like birds caught in the snare, just so are we all trapped by misfortune when it suddenly overtakes us.
    13 Here is another example of the wisdom I have acquired under the sun and it strikes me as important:
    14 There was once a small town, with only a few inhabitants; a mighty king made war on it, laying siege to it and building great siege-works round it.
    15 But there was in that town a poverty-stricken sage who by his wisdom saved the town. No one remembered this poor man afterwards.
    16 So I say: Wisdom is more effective than brute force, but the wisdom of a poor man is not valued: no one listens to what he has to say.
    17 The calm words of the wise make themselves heard above the shouts of someone commanding an army of fools.
    18 Wisdom is worth more than weapons of war, but a single sin undoes a deal of good.

    Chapter 10
    1 One dead fly can spoil the scent-maker's oil: a grain of stupidity outweighs wisdom and glory.
    2 The sage's heart leads him aright, the fool's leads him astray.
    3 A fool walks down the road, he has no wit -- and everyone remarks, 'How silly he is!'
    4 If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your post; composure mitigates grave offences.
    5 One evil I observe under the sun: the sort of misjudgement to which rulers are prone-
    6 folly promoted to the top and the rich taking the lowest place.
    7 I see slaves riding on horses and princes on foot like slaves.
    8 He who digs a pit falls into it, he who undermines a wall gets bitten by a snake,
    9 he who quarries stones gets hurt by them, he who chops wood takes a risk from it.
    10 If, for want of sharpening, the blade is blunt, you have to work twice as hard; but it is the outcome that makes wisdom rewarding.
    11 If, for want of charming, the snake bites, the snake-charmer gets nothing out of it.
    12 The sayings of a sage give pleasure, what a fool says procures his own ruin:
    13 his words have their origin in stupidity and their ending in treacherous folly.
    14 A fool talks a great deal, but none of us in fact can tell the future; what will happen after us, who can tell?
    15 A fool finds hard work very tiring, he cannot even find his own way into town.
    16 Woe to you, country with a lad for king, and where princes start feasting in the morning!
    17 Happy the land whose king is nobly born, where princes eat at a respectable hour to keep themselves strong and not merely to revel!
    18 Thanks to idleness, the roof-tree gives way, thanks to carelessness, the house lets in the rain.
    19 We give parties to enjoy ourselves, wine makes us cheerful and money has an answer for everything.
    20 Do not abuse the king, even in thought, do not abuse a rich man, even in your bedroom, for a bird of the air might carry the news, a winged messenger might repeat what you have said.

    Chapter 11
    1 Cast your bread on the water, eventually you will recover it.
    2 Offer a share to seven or to eight people, you can never tell what disaster may occur.
    3 When clouds are full of rain, they will shed it on the earth. If a tree falls, whether south or north, where it falls, there it will lie.
    4 Keep watching the wind and you will never sow, keep staring at the clouds and you will never reap.
    5 You do not understand how the wind blows, or how the embryo grows in a woman's womb: no more can you understand the work of God, the Creator of all.
    6 In the morning, sow your seed, until evening, do not cease from labour, for of any two things you do not know which will succeed, or which of the two is the better.
    7 How sweet light is, how delightful it is to see the sun!
    8 However many years you live, enjoy them all, but remember, the days of darkness will be many: futility awaits you at the end.
    9 Young man, enjoy yourself while you are young, make the most of the days of your youth, follow the prompting and desire of heart and eye, but remember, God will call you to account for everything.
    10 Rid your heart of indignation, keep your body clear of suffering, though youth and the age of black hair are both futile. Chapter 12
    1 Remember your Creator while you are still young, before the bad days come, before the years come which, you will say, give you no pleasure;
    2 before the sun and the light grow dim and the moon and stars, before the clouds return after the rain;
    3 the time when your watchmen become shaky, when strong men are bent double, when the women, one by one, quit grinding, and, as they look out of the window, find their sight growing dim.
    4 When the street-door is kept shut, when the sound of grinding fades away, when the first cry of a bird wakes you up, when all the singing has stopped;
    5 when going uphill is an ordeal and you are frightened at every step you take- yet the almond tree is in flower and the grasshopper is weighed down and the caper-bush loses its tang; while you are on the way to your everlasting home and the mourners are assembling in the street;
    6 before the silver thread snaps, or the golden bowl is cracked, or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the pulley broken at the well-head:
    7 the dust returns to the earth from which it came, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
    8 Sheer futility, Qoheleth says, everything is futile.
    9 Besides being a sage, Qoheleth taught the people what he himself knew, having weighed, studied and emended many proverbs.
    10 Qoheleth took pains to write in an attractive style and by it to convey truths.
    11 The sayings of a sage are like goads, like pegs positioned by shepherds: the same shepherd finds a use for both.
    12 Furthermore, my child, you must realise that writing books involves endless hard work, and that much study wearies the body.


    Now of this had been the end of the book, I could understand why you might feel highly depressed and perhaps even suicidal. The author does, of course, admit both to the existence of God and an afterlife but as he himself would admit, religion for its own sake isn't much better than no religion at all. In the long-term, self-made righteousness is just as futile as no righteousness at all - "Do not be upright to excess and do not make yourself unduly wise: why should you destroy yourself?" (7:16). What the writer meant by this is that self-made righteousness lays the greatest stress upon outward performances and claims credit for the righteousness - "I'm a good atheist" or "a good humanist". This too is vain and unsatisfying in the end because the more you look at yourself - your thoughts, feelings and deeds, the more disgusting it is. Phariseesm, the curse of Old Testament religion, with its hypocritical assumptions and superior virtue, its multitudineous observances and its devotion to outward ceremonial form, always forgot the weightier spiritual matters and is rightly viewed as this kind of supercillious "righteousness". So you see, religion of this kind can lead you astray too and earn the just contempt of humanists for its hypocrisy.

    How, then, did this old man conclude his lifestime study of human life and living? What is his counsel to us today? Let us see - it's just a couple of sentences, very short, and to the point:


    Conclusion
    13 To sum up the whole matter: fear God and keep his commandments, for that is the duty of everyone.
    14 For God will call all our deeds to judgement, all that is hidden, be it good or bad.


    In the printed Hebrew test of verses 13-14, verse 13 begins with an enlarged Hebrew character to emphasise the importance of this statement. I have emboldened and underlined it for the same reason. Qohileth has taken us on a journey through all types of doubts and fears which man may encounter during a lifetime. His theme has been that all the things which now seem so important are utterly empty in the final analysis. In conclusion, here is the remedy for all the despondency that comes from observing human misery, the real answer which will remove all the perplexities: "Fear God and keep His commandments". Man has no other responsibility than this. A person does not want to be found before God in judgment, weighed down with the excess baggage of so many things which he thought were so important in life, but which will be utterly empty, worthless, and futile when he has but one responsibility in life. This is the elexir that the writer found. It's what this writer has found too.

    Further Reading

    If you're still not convinced, then I would like to invite you to study our small Into All Truth website. What if you now believe in God but don't know where to look - are all religions the same? What's the difference between Biblical Christianity and all the rest? Problems with evolution? We have most of the answers on our larger website but why not start with the smaller one at IAT? What about Christian hypocrisy? How do I really get eternal life? We answer all of these and many, many other questions.

    This page was created on 10 February 2010
    Last updated on 10 February 2010

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