Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lesson 5 Ecclesiastes 4 More Life Under the Sun

Lesson 5 Ecclesiastes 4.More Life Under the Sun

Once again the lesson begins with its defective assumption that this book is about life without God.

Solomon is, again, looking at life from a worldly perspective, from "under the sun." These words, though, are somewhat interesting when you consider who is writing them: the king himself. It would be one thing if a slave were bemoaning his fate at the hands of his or her masters or if a poor person were lamenting his or her fate under the oppression of the rich. But in this case, you have the richest and most powerful leader in the nation complaining about injustice and oppression.

Solomon is looking at the world from the perspective of reality. It is not the promised reality of God we read about in the New Testament but it is the reality of life at his time and under his nation which was the established product of God. What is brilliant about this book is that it reflects life, not just life of the oppressed or life of the well to do. Justice in the world that we all live in is often not seen; even in nations with such high standards as ours justice can still be stolen and abused or lost to mere random chance.

One of the rare times the lesson seems to catch the philosophical meaning of the book is when they write under the heading "Is Life Worth It":

The answer, ultimately, depends upon your view of what the meaning of life is. If one takes the position that our life here is capped and culminated at death and that nothing comes after, you will have one view. If you believe that this life is only a temporary stop on the way to something better, something eternal, then you will have another view. Thus, in many ways, the answer to the question Is life worth it? depends, ironically enough, on the question.

The questions are the key, and the questions are the substance behind the poetry of this book. At that time the Jewish religion did not have the answers to his questions but it is hard to imagine that those questions did not create in others a desire for answers. And this is crucial to our understanding of and interpretation of the books of the Bible.

In the first chapter of Sam Harris’ book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason he decries the God of the Old Testament by quoting the following verses from Deuteronomy. 13:1-5 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

His supposition was what if your son came home from yoga class with a Hindu view of God. The question is a good one even though most of his other beginning suppositions are not so good. There is a tradition in Christianity which assumes the Bible is infallible and inerrant and the tradition also holds that the Bible itself makes the claim to being infallible and inerrant. Now Sam Harris is unable to supply from the Bible that claim but he is able to cite Gallup poll numbers which indicate that it is the major perspective among Christians. Harris uses that presupposition for what follows in his book and his denigration of Christianity and his equation of Christianity with all other religions and it being as dangerous as Islam and the Islamic wars so common in the last 20 years. It is a fatal flaw in his book and it is a fatal flaw in Christian tradition.

The Bible books do not represent eternal truth for all time they indicate an advance in the knowledge of God and man. The books of the Bible present a progression of thought. The God is the same but the way man viewed God was constantly changing. The Genesis story of Eden shows sin was the responsibility of man because he would not obey God; it knew nothing of an evil being, no devil, no Satan, no messiah and no resurrection. You obey God or you would die. This is the world of the Jewish religion that Solomon saw and Solomon was not satisfied with the answers of his day. Why should God be concerned at all about us if after our brief lives we simply die never to be remembered? What is the point of justice or no justice if it all ends the same?

Unless we take the time to understand the interplay of culture, knowledge and the understanding of the times we will be subject to the criticisms in Harris’ book. If Deuteronomy 13 is the infallible Word of God then we are left with the cruel God who destroys those who don’t follow Him or even know about Him. But we don’t have to cling to the traditions of men laid upon the Bible. We can look for the principles that may apply or we can look at the historical application. The lesson of history does not have to be the lesson for today. They may be or they may not be. Inspiration is not dependent upon the idea of straight forward instructions, even if the instruction for one time and culture may have been straight forward. A simple example is the eternal covenant of circumcision in the Old Testament, yet Paul clearly saw that the act was no longer necessary. That is the nature of progressive revelation, there is a lesson there, the history is still there and in some ways even the principle involved may still be there. But the specific instruction is no longer relevant.

The relevance is and has always been based upon man’s ability to reason through the evidence and information. The New Testament and even some parts of the Old Testament indicate that God does not leave us alone in this process of reasoning. It is that faith in the transcendence of God that frightens Harris, because we may have a hard time knowing when or if God is helping our reason. Yet that faith is still superior to the Atheist faith in human reason alone. However subjective the above view is about the Atheist and reason it is no more subjective then Harris’ subjective denigration of religion, because all of the flaws of religions are also the flaws of human reasoning without religion.

7 comments:

Bruce Justinen said...

This last sentence is profound and I am struck by the simplicity and yet complexity of your answer to Harris's argument.

Is it possible that there is a different interpretation to be had of Deut. 13 (I think it was 13?) than the one that Harris has implied. So often we Christians will say that that doesn't apply to today, they "needed" that strict law at that time because Israel was going through a period of crisis etc. etc.

Bulworth said...

II Timothy is usually the verse cited to justify biblical inerrancy, inspiration and the like. And since the only Bible available to the author of II Timothy (assumed to be Paul) was the Old Testament, than the OT in this reasoning is perfectly authoritative, infallible, etc.

What is your take on that passage and argument?

Glenn

Bulworth said...

Sorry, meant to say II Timothy 3:16.

Glenn

al said...

Ecclesiastes 3:10,11 lets us know that Solomon is framing his sermon in the context of God, man and eternity. Steven Covey echoes Ecclesiastes when he wrote, "Begin with the end in mind." That end is entwined with eternity regardless of one's status here on earth. Solomon takes us to the edge to peer over the abyss to help us keep our perspective. Very wise that Solomon fellow!

Richard Harty said...

"Now Sam Harris is unable to supply from the Bible that claim but he is able to cite Gallup poll numbers which indicate that it is the major perspective among Christians. Harris uses that presupposition for what follows in his book and his denigration of Christianity and his equation of Christianity with all other religions and it being as dangerous as Islam and the Islamic wars so common in the last 20 years. It is a fatal flaw in his book and it is a fatal flaw in Christian tradition."

Now if Christianity as a whole takes this position then Sam Harris is correct in saying that Christianity is as dangerous as Islam. So I see no fatal flaw in Sam Harris' argument since he isn't interpreting scripture, he is only stating what Christians say about themselves.

I happen to agree with him and Richard Dawkins that Christianity as a majority is form of child abuse and destructive to humanity. It is very easy to trace a literal understanding of scripture to the horrible atrocities that the institution of Christianity has inflicted on the world. It is estimated that Christians have killed anywhere from 50 to 150 million people for specific religious reasons.

And I agree with Sam Harris that it is the silence of the moderates that sustain this literal use of the Bible by not treating the Bible as the Iron age document that it is and not being more honest about its destructive uses.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your statement "So I see no fatal flaw in Sam Harris' argument since he isn't interpreting scripture, he is only stating what Christians say about themselves."

He is stating what (*some*) Christians say about themselves; all Christians do not subscribe to that... and he is doing it without determining if what they say about themselves is or is not true. No man has full disclosure; all "see darkly, as in a glass". The apostle Paul was referring to the volcanic glass mirrors of his time that rendered an image in some places perfectly but in others flawed and distorted due to the uneven cooling of the liquid volcanic rock...as for your agreeing with Dawkins' view of Christianity do you also agree with his view that there is nothing wrong with a little pedophilia and how do you reconcile his simultaneously holding the view of Christianity being child abuse but adults having sex with chjildren noy so much?

Ron Corson said...

There is little point in arguing with some commenter said on this blog as it may have been quite some time ago that they posted. Sadly the software does not date the comments. I wish it did.