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
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
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
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.