Though I have significant disagreements with some of Doug Wilson’s theology and even more so his rhetoric, nevertheless I would be kidding myself to say I don’t owe him quite a bit. A handful of blog posts about six years ago introduced me to Rene Girard (though Wilson has largely moved on to other things.) His sermons on worldview (talk about a word that has been unfortunately cheapened in the last decade!) have also been helpful as well as works like Fidelity.
When asked in an interview a while back though which one of his 30+ books was the most important or valuable, I was surprised to hear him answer that it was his commentary on Ecclesiastes. It was put together from a series of talks, one of which I actually heard myself as a student back in 1999. Joy at the End of the Tether is the book. I had it on my shelf amidst a stack of recently acquired used editions so I decided to read through it this week.
It’s very good and sides with Solomon in that it tries to make Ecclesiastes “fit” in with the gospel and the rest of scripture. I’ve seen more than a few teachers over the years really not know what to do with Ecclesiastes and its “life sucks and then you die” message. I’ve even heard people all but throw it out of the canon as some sort of uninspired depressing late-life moan piece.
I think in the end though, Solomon had his head on straight, even if his heart wasn’t always in the right place throughout mid-life. (Less so than his father David.) The point is that God is completely in control of everything, even all the bad stuff. It’s not some cosmic battle or violent turf war in your heart. He is the Alpha and Omega. From THAT, you can simply work hard and enjoy what you can here on earth. And when stuff doesn’t turn out how you wished, don’t sweat it. Oh well. God is still God. Nothing changed.
I copied down a few sections I especially liked:
Of course, wisdom is a pain in the neck. Within these boundaries, wisdom can only show that God has determined to trap us in a meaningless existence. So any intelligent investigation of the world and its pleasures will only multiply sorrows (1:18). The fool thinks he is chained to a dungeon wall; the intelligent knows that it is actually a labyrinth. Pleasures, delights, sensations, and all their cousins, will only send a man, first on this fool’s errand, and then on that one.
I think life seems meaningless to us because of the curse of the fall. Our minds our darkened, our desires are confused. We can’t think our way back into communion with our creator. Good thing He intends to come take us there himself some day.
The commotion of the stock market reveals the hubris of man better than few other things. We believe we can pump up the Dow forever and make money at a fine clip forester…but we cannot. The cycles ordained by God for everything in this fallen and silly world will come around again, and many a millionaire will go white in disbelief. “How could this happen?” Friend, look at the world. How could it NOT?
How could this NOT happen? That is what I think every time I hear some economist on NPR or CNN talk about how GDP always needs to be growing. Growth growth growth! Really? Do you guys ever read any history, ever? Bunch of morons.
Those who say that a holy God cannot wield a wicked tool have come to believe the authority of their own sophistries. The Bible tells us that God is HOLY, and the Bible tells us that God wields the wicked in His hand like an ax. God used the wicked Assyrians to judge the Jews; God used Herod, Pontious Pilate, and all the Jews to condemn His Son; God used Judas to betray the Lord; God used Absalom to sleep with David’s concubines. The list is much longer and much less pleasant than many Christians want.
At the end of the day, it’s better to stick with a high view of the sovereignty of God and not try to dilute it with a list of complicated exceptions.
Man is built for community, and loneliness is a great evil. Working together is satisfying; it is fruitful, prevents harm, keeps you warm, defends, and keeps unity (4:9-12).
A man works hard to make a pile and doesn’t stop to ask a very basic question – why am I doing this He makes a stack of money but has no one to share it with. He can’t afford to marry or have children, because they would take hi away from his work. He cannot afford to have friends because all their motives would be suspect. He could buy dinner for everyone in the restaurant, but no one wants to sit with him. That’s all right, because he doesn’t want to sit with them either.
But companionship is dear. God created us for friendship, and a curse resides on all things which prevent men from forming friendships. One of the great culprits in this affair is the task of making big-time money. So the answer is that the gift of God BESTOWS COMPANIONSHIP.
Really great stuff. Shockingly sounds likes Wendell Berry. (!)
The one who gives to the poor is in fact giving to the Lord. Thinking backwards can be fun sometimes. Some say that life is uncertain, so we should eat dessert first. Solomon says here that because life is uncertain we ought to give the dessert away.