Living Life Backward - How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us To Live in Light Of The End
Finding Our Way
My family has recently become obsessed with the Netflix show Lost In Space. Two episodes in and I’m trying to get up to speed. We pause, family members explain complicated back stories. What I learn is this: this is easy to follow. I might need to close my eyes when they are battling eels under the ship or stealing the identity chip out of someone’s arm. It might be set years in the future and they might be thousands of light years away from earth (and Alpha Centauri - where they were hoping to reach). But it turns out all the problems of married life, parenthood, dealing with danger and people being people are all exactly the same. Even the robot just wants to belong and attempts falteringly to do his best to become part of the Robinson family. To my surprise, Ecclesiastes is still a helpful book for understanding Lost In Space. And it’s still a helpful book for understanding this life, ‘under the sun’.
The Power Of Words
Gibson writes, ‘It’s because of what words do that we have the book of Ecclesiastes. God gave us words because he loves creating things. He loves changing things. He loves seeing something come into being that didn’t exist beforehand. He spoke - just opened his mouth, and angels shouted for joy as the universe was born - and with a word, he created everything. Just as he spoke like that, so he speaks here, now, in these words [of Ecclesiastes], so that something will happen to us as we hear them.’ (p. 153)
Words have power. All the more God’s words which are supernatural. So I think it’s always worth asking yourself, ‘How can I use the part of the Bible I’m in, the words of God that are challenging and shaping me, evangelistically?’
I think Ecclesiastes has rich evangelistic material for the simple fact that it’s extremely honest about life as we know it. The Preacher is so right, ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’
How Do I Use Ecclesiastes Evangelistically?
Arthur Stace found a way by using just one word, ‘Eternity’ and he didn’t even speak it, he wrote it. (You can read more about him here: (https://www.equip.org.au/bookclubfeed/2018/7/4/mr-eternity-l69w4-47g2n-6573w-ch22f?rq=mr%20eternity)
What can we do with the conversations God gives us? Reading Ecclesiastes with Gibson’s book is a wonderful opportunity to bring up issues of origin, destiny, meaning and justice with your friends. All topics most people have opinions on.
Here's an imaginary chat that is pretty close to the kind of conversational opportunities I have every week (Also, I really do talk that much!):
Friend 1: What’d you get up to today?
Friend 2: Ah, I went up to church - we have our group on today - nice food - chat - we read some of the Bible and prayed for each other.
Friend 1: Cool.
Friend 2: We’re reading a pretty famous bit actually, You know that song ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ by the Byrds about there being a time for this and a time for that?
Friend 1: Oh yeah, I know that song.
Friend 2: Well, turns out those lyrics are straight out of this book.
Friend 1: Ok. Who wrote the Bible anyway?
Friend 2: Lots of people actually. Christians believe God inspired them. This particular book - Ecclesiastes - is probably written by King Solomon.
Friend 1: Oh yeah, I’ve heard of him.
Friend 2: He’s supposed to be like one of the wisest people ever - so bit of pressure there to produce something good!
Friend 1: Yeah, right.
Friend 2: It’s pretty wise, and a bit confusing at times, but I’m blown away by how honest it is. And how relevant the advice is for my life right now.
Friend 1: In what way?
Friend 2: Like for example, there’s even amazing business advice in there! But I think what I connect with the most is how honest it is about death and how quick this life goes and to savour and enjoy it.
Friend 1: That sounds pretty modern.
Friend 2: It’s challenging though because It’s pretty big on pointing out the injustice and suffering that goes on -
Friend 1: Sure.
Friend 2: And how awful that is if there’s no God who will judge and put things right in the end.
Friend 1: Well, who can say?
Friend 2: Yeah, it’s a big claim, but this book is saying this life makes the most sense if you remember the God who made you and loves you -
Friend 1: Mmhmm
Friend 2: That this life isn’t just about us, we’re made for something more.
Friend 1: Yeah, right.
Friend 2: What about you? How was your day?
In real life, I went to a 20 year school reunion recently where multiple people said, “I’m so glad we did this, we’ll be dead soon.” So Ecclesiastes of them! And so many opportunities to have amazing conversations because at a school reunion with the kind of people I went to school with, person after person just wanted to get right down to it. I was so glad I’d spent time inhabiting this part of the Bible.
How Do I Let Ecclesiastes Change Me?
As well as thinking through how we can share the wisdom in this Bible book with friends, we need to let it in and do its work on us. This book did something wonderful for me. It whacked me over the head and made me do something about my anger.
We read this passage aloud in Bible study with all the emotion this former drama student could muster:
The time is coming when all the things you think are the most important in the world, all your strongest emotions - your love, your hate, your jealousy - the time is coming when they will all go cold and vanish and be forgotten. In the end Death makes no sense. Death will leave your face tear-stained in perplexity. And because death is like that, life works like this: God comes to us in Jesus and says, “Trust me. Walk with me. Love me. Put your hand in my hand. Believe my Word. Stop trying to understand everything, to be in control of everything, to tie up all the loose ends, to have perfect peace and wealth and health and happiness. Stop striving for all those things, and stop it now. If you can’t see that life doesn’t always make sense, then something is coming your way that will prove it to you. Death is coming.” p. 109.
It was a small group ‘moment’. Women in the midst of sometimes chaotic family lives - married women, single women. Each with complex relationships: jobs, hopes, dreams, frustrations. Women who feel big feelings! We all felt still for a moment. What am I getting so worked up about? This is a breath!! Be wise about it. It won’t last forever. Be kind. You're not in control of everything. He is! Know the peace you have through Jesus. Let that flood your brain. Gibson’s words were like blows on my head and the ice pack in there too. Just stop it. Trust me. Walk with me. Love me.
In my copy of Gibson’s book I’ve written: ‘Read this when you get angry!’ Have mercy on me Lord and do your work in me.
Something Greater Than Solomon Is Here
‘The Queen of the South will rise at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.’ (Matthew 12:42) As wise as Solomon was, Matthew says someone greater has come. How does this person, Jesus, refine our view of Ecclesiastes?
The book of Ecclesiastes has been likened to a bath rather than a meal. A ‘John the Baptist style’ call to repentance before God appears in the final chapter and we’ve been jolted with enough reality that we’re ready to meet him.
Unlike the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, who has sifted for us as much of the truth as there is to tell, Jesus tells us even more of the story because he goes beyond the grave. If we had to draw a line from death to life we wouldn’t believe it could be done unless someone had come back from the dead and told us they’d done it. Unlike the experience of sin messing up our lives that we live every day, Jesus resists and lives a perfect life. He does this, because no human being had greater love: Love for His Father and love for His people. His power and his majesty are incredible and his earthly status couldn’t be lower. He did it for us. Gibson says, death is the perspective we need to begin to enjoy life. Jesus says, love me and I will give you eternal life. Trust the one who’s gone from death to life and your coming death is a victory day that rings with the hope of life forever with a glorious King.
I’m super thankful for this refreshing read and I hope you’ve enjoyed it too. I love that in the final pages, after taking us through Ecclesiastes piece by piece and part by part Gibson says, ‘Now that you’re about to finish Ecclesiastes, read on into Song of Solomon.’ Read about God’s amazing picture of ‘what it’s like to be in love’. Read on in your Bible, dear reader, because the story’s not over for us, yet.
Katie loves books, baking and beaches. She teaches Scripture at two local High Schools and leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church in the inner west community of Sydney. Katie is looking forward to commencing part-time study at Moore College in 2019 and would love your prayers for God to continue to grow her to pass the message on.