Ecclesiastes in 24 Words


One more post from Ecclesiastes before moving on. This enigmatic book is not for the young. You have to have some miles on your odometer to feel the road-weariness; some serious losses in your ledger to understand the angst.

Immature eyes tend to see the world as binary: ones or zeroes, on or off, black or white. But as we mature we realize it’s not that simple. Life is more analog than digital. The smugness of classical physics gives way to quantum uncertainty. Newton bows to Heisenberg. Schrodinger’s cat is out of the bag—or not.

That’s why I would translate the book’s opening salvo differently from the King James or New International versions:

“Vanity of vanities,” saith the Preacher,
“vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” -KJV

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” -NIV

“Ambiguous! Ambiguous!” says the Writer.
“Absolutely ambiguous! Get used to it.” -MHV

Ecclesiastes is an old man’s jaded observations on human experience “under the sun,” which is ambiguous at best. It’s a mishmash of contradictory maxims, candid observations, cynical questions and cryptic advice.

There are lots of bones in this fishy book, but also some provocative wisdom worth chewing on. I can summarize its counsel in two dozen words:

Hold your cards loosely; death trumps every hand.
Endure what you must.
Enjoy what you can.
Watch your mouth.
Do your duty.
Fear God.

The older I get, the more my own writing takes on the flavor of Ecclesiastes. My blog and recent book are replete with contradictory maxims, candid observations, cynical questions and cryptic advice. In the end I would be content if what was said of Solomon could be said of me:

He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:3).

No, not that verse, this one:

Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. … The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true (Ecclesiastes 12:9-10).

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