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Learn to See
Rev Arnold Chow
Without a doubt, life has its good times. But there are other times when you find to your dismay many things under the sun that you simply cannot control.
When changes occur in our job, wealth, health, family relationships, the environment or political situation, even believers will feel very much at a loss. It is exactly such a life scenario, with all its brevity, uncertainties and lack of lasting contentment, that the Book of Ecclesiastes addresses and teaches us to face squarely.
The Bible interprets life mainly from two angles: creation and redemption. We are more familiar with redemption, by which, to resolve the predicament of sin, God sent Jesus Christ to be man's only salvation and way out. As for creation, you are probably familiar with the narrative at the beginning of the Bible about the six days of creation of everything in heavens and the earth as well as man. It also tells that life is characterized by its createdness, order and value. We seldom look at our lives from this perspective. The wisdom literature in the Bible approaches life more from the angle of creation. Reading these books more will help us avoid attributing our life experiences to purely spiritual or secular origins.
Ecclesiastes as wisdom literature goes to great length and takes different angles in its exposition on life and everything in the world. Many people associate Ecclesiastes with "vanity" – a word which is often mistaken to be synonymous with nothingness or meaninglessness. They see the book as a pessimistic exhortation for the world. But you will notice that a number of similar terms are common to Ecclesiastes and Genesis. They show that the author had scrutinized life under the sun through the lens of creation and learned why it is hard to be rid of vanity. Other than the prologue and epilogue, conclusions to five main sections of Ecclesiastes (2:24-26; 3:12-15; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-10) deal with "vanity" and the contrasting theme of happiness/satisfaction. 1
The book also reveals that life, which is hard to fully grasp, is exactly what the Creator designed it to be. Looking back at the time when I first studied Ecclesiastes, I realized that the Lord had long ago seen the doubts and restlessness in my heart. So with Ecclesiastes, the "one shepherd" of life (12:11) helped me learn how to look at my life encounters. According to Jewish tradition, during the yearly Sukkot when the gathering of the harvest is celebrated, people would read out the Book of Ecclesiastes. While they rejoice in embracing the good, they also learn to accept life's vanity.
If and when we deeply feel that things are not in order, or are absurd and irrational, may the Lord guide us with Ecclesiastes. May we learn how to look at life. May we respect the order set by God therein and the arrangement from His hand in everyone's unique life path. May we all find satisfaction in our toil (2:24).
1 Yeung, Sek-cheung. "Creation Theology in Ecclesiastes and Wisdom for Workplace." Creation Theology and Life. Hong Kong: Tien Dao Publishing House Ltd, 2016.