The Cutting Room Floor – Approaching the Horizon with Ecclesiastes

I began the Cutting Room Floor as a way of engaging with what the HUMC Wednesday Bible Study was studying and I plan to continue do that as we move on to other studies.  I like being able to explore tangents and reflections that don’t necessarily “fit” into the Wednesday study.  I also hope that it will serve as a way that people can engage beyond the Wednesday class.  So, as we make our way through differing topics, I’ll make every effort to post weekly about whatever it is that we’re covering in Bible study.  After wrapping up Ecclesiastes next week, we’ll be taking a look at the major Christian denominations using the study Christianity’s Family Tree by Adam Hamilton.

So, this means that this will likely be one of my last posts on Ecclesiastes.  I started with the ambition of blogging about each lesson, which meant posts about 2 chapters every week.  I started by focusing on hebel and other interesting words that caught my attention.  As I continued teaching and studying over these past few weeks, the Teacher began to wear me down.  The persistent voice of cynicism and the repetition of the nature of all things as hebel has made me somewhat weary and ready to move on to other things.  Though I am concerned about a few things:

  1. I’m thinking that Ecclesiastes was not meant to be read over a period of weeks, but rather in one sitting.  In this way, Ecclesiastes is a sustained reflection on the meaning and nature of existence.  I imagine that this would make the book somewhat more bearable and the repetition would then be more lyrical or rhythmic.  However, this is not how we have been studying this book.  Instead, the repetitive nature of the book begins to drag.  By the 4th week I was literally saying out loud: “I know, I get it – it’s all hebel…”
  1. It has not helped that the start of this study coincided with a season of illness and death among family and friends.  My wife and I were talking the other day about entering this season of life (yeah, I know, for everything there is a season) when people who have been so important to you, family and friends, being to die with sad regularity.  This season would have been difficult without the Teacher tapping me on the shoulder every so often to remind that it’s all hebel
  1. As I’ve pondered my various responses to this book, my concern is that there is some deeper wisdom here that I’m simply missing.  I always assume that when it comes to Scripture, I’m ever in need of some maturing before I can understand things a little better.  I need more insight, more experience, more something.  In other words, my operating assumption is that if I don’t understand a text, the problems is not with the text, but with me and my lack of understanding and/or patience and/or maturity.  This book definitely brings that assumption to the fore.

With those points serving as caveats, I can say that I’m not too terribly saddened to move on to another “season” in our Bible Study.  I’ll write another post or two on some ‘points of interest’ in the last few chapters and with that we will bid the Teacher farewell for the time being.  And in so doing, I’ll be bearing in mind a few things:

  1. The voice of the Teacher is one voice among many in the symphony of Scripture.  I opened our study on Ecclesiastes with a question: “Why is this book in the Bible?”  I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to this question.  Yet, I am still glad that it is, mainly for its honesty.  The Teacher does not back away from doubt and cynicism.
  2. In some ways, the Teacher is way ahead of his time.  His teachings are introspective and reflective in ways that would find later sympathetic partners in existential and even empirical philosophies.  I assume that this can be attributed to the influence of Greek philosophy and culture.
  3. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I assume those who claim that the Bible is “full of fairy tales and silly myths” have not actually read Ecclesiastes in a serious way.

Next week, I’ll post about the final few chapters, lifting up some things that caught my attention…thanks for reading along!

Grace and Peace,

Wes

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