The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
-Ecclesiastes 1:5-9, ESV
Ecclesiastes is a pretty morose book. Sure, there are quotes we like to pick out and embroider on tea towels or caption our selfies with, same as we do with countless other parts of the Bible, but overall it’s a book that leaves you filled with confusion and pain. A successful man (traditionally thought to be Solomon, but there’s plenty of debate around that) reflects on his life through a cynical lens, searching for orderly purpose and finding injustice, cruelty, and vanity all around instead.
In the end, yes, the author says to follow God, but throughout the book his voice is tired. He has seen and felt too much, and cannot hide the weariness in his teachings.
When I first read Ecclesiastes, I thought it was scary. It was not inspiring or optimistic or uplifting. Instead, it felt like the sigh of an old man at the end of his life, heavy with regret and flirting with apathy. It scared me that this sort of voice was in the Bible. Now though, I appreciate the voice that does not shy away from difficult things in life.
It’s a comfort to know, when you are tired in your bones, that you are not the first to cry out, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
When events in your life are more than you can handle, it’s reassuring to see you’re not the only one dismayed by the steady, dispassionate cycles of the water and the wind. Life flows on around you, business as usual, and you’re not the first to be offended by it.
Without going into too much detail, I can say the past couple months have been difficult in a couple areas of my life. Although nothing is catastrophic right now, I’m still at a point where I don’t want to read Psalms of worship. I don’t want to have verses about love, forgiveness, and glory quoted at me. Petulant as it may be, I do not want to cling to a rosy, feel-good message and push through until I’m chipper and sunny and palatable again.
Right now, I’ve felt anger and I’ve felt grief and I need the words of a jaded old man telling me across thousands of years that times come in life when even the wisest and most renowned will shout with bitterness.
“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV)
Still, I need the voice of a broken teacher who has seen justice subverted with no penalty on this earth.
“I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter.” (Ecclesiastes 4:1, NIV)
Even with some distance, I need the acknowledgement that wisdom and time to not heal all things.
“For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18, NIV)
There’s comfort in the sorrow and cynicism of Ecclesiastes, just as there’s comfort to be found in the miracles of Christ, the letters of Paul, and the praises of the Psalms. So just like the Teacher (NIV), the Preacher (ESV), the supposed king, I offer some words that nobody will want to put on a throw pillow. I lift up a sentiment not meant to be encouraging. Instead, I offer a prayer meant to be more honest than beautiful:
I am graceless
Devoid of mercy
Fragile as cobwebs
Stretched thin over gulfs of time.
The crucible burns me
The hammer and anvil crush me
The journey wearies me
I am only chaff in the wind.
Turn me to gold
Fill me with treasure
Find all the kernels
Transmute me to glory.
I will not revel in sorry, I will not drink pain and grief over and over again. The words of Ecclesiastes will not always be what I need and, of course, there will be a time for Psalms again. But for now, I find comfort in this book that used to baffle me.