Debating with Ark Times Bloggers on “The Meaning of Life” Part 6A (What does the term life “under the sun” mean in the Book of Ecclesiastes?)

Ecclesiastes 1

Published on Sep 4, 2012

Calvary Chapel Spring Valley | Sunday Evening | September 2, 2012 | Pastor Derek Neider

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I have enjoyed going back and forth with the Arkansas Times Bloggers on many subjects over the years. Now I have discussed the subject of “The Meaning of Life” with them recently and I wanted to share some of this with you.

I have written on the Book of Ecclesiastes and the subject of the meaning of our lives on several occasions on this blog. In this series on Ecclesiastes I hope to show how secular humanist man can not hope to find a lasting meaning to his life in a closed system without bringing God back into the picture. This is the same exact case with Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Three thousand years ago, Solomon took a look at life “under the sun” in his book of Ecclesiastes. Christian scholar Ravi Zacharias has noted, “The key to understanding the Book of Ecclesiastes is the term ‘under the sun.’ What that literally means is you lock God out of a closed system, and you are left with only this world of time plus chance plus matter.”

On May 28, 2013 on the Arkansas Times Blog I posted the following:

Chris Martin of Coldplay revealed in his interview with Howard Stern that he was raised an evangelical Christian but he has left the church. I believe that many words that he puts in his songs today are generated from the deep seated Christian beliefs from his childhood that find their way out in his songs. The fact Coldplay’s songs deal so much with death and the search for meaning and purpose of life (similar to Solomon’s search in Ecclesiastes), and that our actions are being watched, and Chris describes different ways God tries to reveal himself to us, and many songs deal with trying to find a way to an afterlife and heaven, and he stills uses Christian terms like being “blessed” and “grateful.”

People are looking for a purpose for their lives even if they have millions in the bank and have the world at their finger tips.

https://thedailyhatch.org/2013/05/28/the-mo…

My usual opponent who I do respect goes by the username “Olphart” and he or her responded on May 28, 2013:

Olphart claims that I have the message of Ecclesiastes wrong and he quotes Wikipedia:
Wikipedia notes:

“The title is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth, meaning “Gatherer”, but traditionally translated as “Teacher” or “Preacher”.[1]

Koheleth introduces himself as “son of David, king in Jerusalem,” PERHAPS IMPLYING that he is Solomon, but the work is IN FACT ANONYMOUS and was most probably composed in the LAST PART OF THE THIRD CENTURY BC.[2] The book is in the form of an autobiography telling of his investigation of the meaning of life and the best way of life. He proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently hevel, a word meaning “vain”, “futile”, “empty”, “meaningless”, “temporary”, “transitory”, “fleeting,” or “mere breath,” as the lives of both wise and foolish men end in death. While Koheleth clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life, he is UNABLE TO ASCRIBE ETERNAL MEANING TO IT. IN LIGHT OF THIS PERCEIVED SENSELESSNESS, HE SUGGESTS THAT ONE SHOULD ENJOY THE SIMPLE PLEASURES OF DAILY LIFE, SUCH AS EATING, DRINKING, AND TAKING ENJOYMENT IN ONE’S WORK WHICH ARE GIFTS FROM THE HANDS OF GOD. THE BOOK CONCLUDES WITH WORDS THAT MAY HAVE BEEN ADDED BY A LATER EDITOR DISTURBED BY KOHELETH’S FAILURE TO MENTION GOD’S LAWS: “FEAR GOD, AND KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS; FOR THAT IS THE WHOLE DUTY OF EVERYONE” (12:13).[3]”

I have capitalized the parts that directly contradict how you and Dr. Peter May characterize the book of Ecclesiastes. You got the author wrong, you got the date of composition wrong and, most likely, have gotten the central message totally backwards.

Other than that, you are accurate, it seems.
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On May 29, 2013 on the Arkansas Times Blog I responded with the following:

Here is my answer:

There are many who hold that Solomon wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes and there are many that believe Solomon is talking about examining life “under the sun” as life apart from God. You will notice that in Solomon’s final conclusion he brings God back into the picture. Here are some other people and their perspectives agree with my view on Solomon’s use of this phrase “under the sun.”

Under the Sun vs. Over the Sun

April 1, 2013 at 10:59 am | Posted in Ecclesiastes | 1 Comment
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The Book of Ecclesiastes takes a hard look at life “under the sun:” life from a mortal, earthly, finite perspective. This viewpoint may be contrasted with life “over the sun:” life from an eternal, Heavenly, infinite perspective.

Under the sun, life is monotonous; over the sun, it’s adventurous. Under the sun, wisdom is vain; over the sun, wisdom is extremely useful. Under the sun, wealth is futile; over the sun, wealth opens up great opportunities. Under the sun, death is certain; over the sun, death provides great motivation. The Christian life can be compared to a puzzle, a battle, a challenge, a race, a treasure hunt, or a pilgrimage. None of these are monotonous or boring. They are the stuff of true adventure.

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ECCLESIASTES – BIBLE SURVEY
 

Author:  The writer says that he was “the Son of David, King in Jerusalem” (1:1, 12, 16).  The writer is Solomon, and the book is an autobiography of his experiences and reflections while he was out of fellowship with God.

Such is life “under the sun” (or Earth) apart from God, is “vanities of vanities”. Solomon concluded that it was all vanity, or “vapor”, a grasping for the wind, all that he had done and experienced, apart from God.

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Life Under The Sun

Chasing the Wind

We have seen that worldliness is essentially a matter of eliminating God from the picture and focusing instead only on life “under the sun.” Those who live by this philosophy inevitably become so preoccupied with this life that personal happiness and welfare become their sole concern. In their quest for that ever elusive peace and contentment, however, they eventually become so frustrated that they adopt a spirit of pessimism, cynicism, and despair. It is significant that “the Preacher” illustrates the futility of this search for meaning and purpose by the image of the circle in Ecclesiastes 1:4-7:

“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh…The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the waters run into the sea…unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.”

When God is left out of the definition of life, all appears terribly monotonous and aimlessly repetitious.

Is Life Futile?

Ecclesiastes does not end on this pessimistic note, however. After analyzing the futility of life without God, the Preacher affirms that life lived with a conscious awareness of God is supremely meaningful: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” the Preacher counsels (12:1). Moreover, “because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge” (12:9; emphasis mine). He concludes “the whole matter” by urging his young auditors, “Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (12:13-14). With God in the picture, all of life, be it work, education, recreation, leisure, relationships, or the use of material things, is meaningful. The purpose of life, consequently, is to enjoy life as God’s gift and to devote it to his glory by worshipping him and obeying his commandments. That is the whole duty of man. That is a real sense of purpose.

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Darkness under the Sun

April 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Ecclesiastes | 8 Comments
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King Solomon was looking at life from an earthly, temporal point of view, and he came to these conclusions:

1. Life is vain because of its monotony.
2. Life is vain because of the limits of wisdom.
3. Life is vain because of the limits of wealth.

I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:8-11

Solomon was the richest man in the Bible – maybe of all time. He was the Bill Gates of his day. However, no one can buy his way into Heaven or out of eternity. Somebody once said that if money can’t buy happiness, at least it will allow you to afford your favorite kind of misery. Money can be a valuable tool. You can’t eat cash, but you can buy food with it. You can’t keep warm with it, but you can buy fuel with it. This quote once appeared in the Wall St. Journal: “Money is a universal passport to everywhere except Heaven; and a universal provider of everything except happiness.”

For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

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Book of Ecclesiastes

The Book of Ecclesiastes does not directly identify its author. There are quite  a few verses that imply Solomon wrote this book. There are some clues in the  context that may suggest a different person wrote the book after Solomon’s  death, possibly several hundred years later. Still, the conventional belief is  that the author is indeed Solomon.

Date of Writing: Solomon’s reign as king of Israel lasted from around 970 B.C. to around 930  B.C. The Book of Ecclesiastes was likely written towards the end of his reign,  approximately 935 B.C.

Purpose of Writing: Ecclesiastes  is a book of perspective. The narrative of “the Preacher” (KJV), or “the  Teacher” (NIV) reveals the depression that inevitably results from seeking  happiness in worldly things. This book gives Christians a chance to see the  world through the eyes of a person who, though very wise, is trying to find  meaning in temporary, human things. Most every form of worldly pleasure is  explored by the Preacher, and none of it gives him a sense of meaning.

In the end, the Preacher comes to accept that faith in God is the only way to  find personal meaning. He decides to accept the fact that life is brief and  ultimately worthless without God. The Preacher advises the reader to focus on an  eternal God instead of temporary pleasure.

Key Verses: Ecclesiastes 1:2, “’Vanity of vanities,’ says the  Preacher, ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’” (NKJV).

Ecclesiastes 1:18,  “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more  grief.”

Ecclesiastes 2:11, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands  had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing  after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

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WRESTLING WITH THE MEANING OF LIFE

Is there any real meaning in life? Or is everything meaningless? All is vanity says the Preacher. On the face of it, the writer seems to be promoting the idea that everything really is meaningless. We must remember, however, that he is constructing an argument designed to lead us from one way of thinking to another that is radically different. He therefore starts with the wrong idea so that he may lead us to the right one. He means to expose what we nowadays call the secular view of life: a life without any absolutes, a life without the certainties of the revelation of God’s Word, a life lived out of values generated by man without reference to God, a life that expects lasting satisfaction from earthbound things. He wants to show how such a life can only be meaningless and must end in disillusionment in time, not to mention eternity. To heighten the drama of his argument, he gives a vivid presentation of this position as if it is all there is! Surprisingly perhaps, this theme of meaninglessness is only a means to his primary goal. Later, as he develops his argument, he shows his readers that there is real meaning in life and that it consists in loving God and being his disciples [12:13-14]. He is not a cynic. He firmly believes that all meaning comes from the infinite, personal God who has revealed Himself to humanity in His Word. Consequently, he is persuaded that this meaning is only understood and grasped in a personal relationship with God – a living faith in Him, which results in a commitment to discipleship as a child of God.

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Super Bowl, Black Eyed Peas, and the Meaning of Life

February 7, 2011 by Steve Spurlin, PhDSolomon identifies the futility of life apart from God.  In Ecclesiastes 1:2, Solomon states, “Vanity (meaninglessness) of vanities,…Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.”  This declaration identifies the emptiness of life apart from the proper relationship with our Creator God through His only begotten Son, Messiah Jesus.  Solomon goes on to reveal his scientific findings – what he discovered through a scientific investigation of the various activities that man uses to find peace, purpose, and fulfillment in life.  And each avenue that the “under the sun” (1:3, et. al.) man utilizes to find what he is looking for has the same conclusion – vanity, emptiness, meaninglessness.  That does not mean that man cannot find some measure of fulfillment, peace, and purpose because he does.  But what Solomon is identifying is that because of how God created man – “He has…set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (3:11) – we have intrinsic knowledge that there is something, someone, some meaning beyond the here and now, beyond ourselves.  There is an eternity.  There is eternal purpose.  There is eternal meaning.  But left alone and to our own devices the best we can do is attend the Super Bowl, wait breathlessly for the half-time entertainment, groove to the music of our youth, or any number of instruments or activities in order to numb ourselves to the emptiness of life apart from a right relationship to our Creator God.  And ultimately in the end only find emptiness and meaninglessness.

What is the answer (and its not blowing in the wind)?  It is to “Believe (have faith) in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).  It is then that sin is forgiven and a real relationship with the God Who created us is established.  Then and only then can we find eternal meaning, purpose, and satisfaction in this life, and are enabled to look with hope and confidence towards eternal life.

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Apologetics and Ecclesiastes

“Vanity of vanities,” says the preacher. All is vanity.

How can life seem any less meaningful? “What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” Everything just keeps happening over and over. One generation comes, another goes, and the cycle of life starts over. “All things are wearisome…”

But Koheleth was determined to find meaning in life. He sought out many avenues through which he thought he might find happiness. He tried wisdom, only to discover that “in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.”

He tried pleasure. He withheld nothing that he desired from himself. Yet, at the end of the day, he realized that it was “vanity and striving after wind.” There was “no profit under the sun.”

He looked at the world and saw oppression, ugliness, grief, and death. Riches did not live up to its deceitful promises: “The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.” Power is not what it is cracked up to be. In the end, whether a person is rich, poor, good, bad, or anything else, we all end up going back to the dust. As is the fool, so is the wise man.

Looking at life from such an earthly perspective can lead to terrible despair. Koheleth looked at it all; he tried it all. He found nothing ultimately satisfying or meaningful – until he turned back to God.

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