Of all the heros of the Old Testament, I have the most trouble really appreciating Solomon. It’s hard to relate to anyone so rich and powerful–and who had all those women. They were his downfall, really. A man known for his wisdom foolishly turned away from following God. He also wrote the gloomiest book in the Bible, but if we dig beneath an almost cynical surface, Solomon has a lot to say about living in an imperfect world.
It’s almost as if God let Solomon discover that the human condition is hopeless without a savior, but then neglected to let him in on the fact that he intended to provide a savior. Ecclesiastes is not a prophetic book. It is written in the tradition of wisdom literature.
Rather than speaking for God, as most biblical authors do, Solomon offers the best of his considerable wisdom, along with his considerable frustration that it was not enough. Nothing was ever enough for Solomon. Even life at its best is darkened with the knowledge that everyone will eventually die, and life will go on without us.
In today’s terms, we might say that life is not a TV show. Things aren’t neatly wrapped up in an hour. The good guy doesn’t always get the girl. The bad guy doesn’t always get punished. And God doesn’t always ride to the rescue so that people are obviously better off for doing the right thing. Solomon could find no meaning to life, but refused to conclude that there was therefore no meaning at all. God knew the meaning, and that was enough.
How did he say we should live in a world that makes no sense? In a world where God has some purpose behind everything but hasn’t let us in on the secret? Solomon tells us we should enjoy life. We should enjoy our work, our relationships, our food, our leisure, our natural surroundings, whatever good life presents to us.
We will have sorrows, suffer injustices, receive all manner of unpleasant surprises, but that should not keep us from greeting life with joy. Every day brings a chance to be frustrated, but also a chance to be glad. It’s a lot more pleasant focusing attention on the good than on the bad, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem in comparison.
We know more than Solomon did. We know that God sent a savior. We know that ultimately he will reward righteousness and punish sin. We know that our savior went to prepare a place for us, and that we will live happily ever after in God’s house for an eternity after he has vanquished sin. What difference does that make for us as we consider Solomon’s advice?
Surprisingly little. After all, what good is it to anticipate joy in heaven and neglect opportunities for joy here and now? The smartest of us may wind up working for fools. The fastest of us may not win the race. The most talented among us may not receive praise. Jesus’ coming did not change any of that.
If Solomon knew that life is to be enjoyed despite its injustices, how much more should we who know Christ recognize it and live accordingly. Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all circumstances. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for all of us.