Many great thinkers have reported benefiting considerably from the book of Ecclesiastes (or ‘Koheleth,’ as it’s known in Hebrew). The word ‘Koheleth’ directly translates as the assembler of the people and true to its title, the book states, for these people, the author’s conclusions of his long and fully-lived life. Ecclesiastes is both an incredibly easy book to synthesize (its leading refrain—that all is ‘hevel’ or vapor/meaningless—is repeated throughout) and a great challenge to explain (it’s nihilism is found essentially nowhere else in the Bible). Personally, I’ve not benefited much from the wisdom literature of the Scriptures, but I think that is because it is so challenging to understand. Yet, on my most recent read-through of Ecclesiastes it made sense like never before. I hope, perhaps, I am learning what Solomon learned without the painful end that he experienced.
Jesus as the great iconoclast seems to be a recurring theme recently in passages I have read. I’ve always been perplexed by the story in Luke’s gospel where Jesus reads from the Isaiah scroll and the members of the synagogue then attempt to throw him off a cliff for it. Interestingly, as I was reading through Luke and stopping to focus on this story, I concurrently came to a chapter in Kenneth Bailey’s brilliant book, ‘Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes’, that deals with this confusing portion of text.
I recently finished C.S. Lewis’ brief work, “A Grief Observed.” Lewis originally published the book anonymously; it describes his heartache and confusion after the death of his wife, whom he had been married to for only 3 years. Like in so many of his writings, Lewis is able to articulate the feelings that many of us have had and his insights are lucidly expressed. Below are three passages that bring up perhaps some of the most important concepts about illness and spirituality. 1. Anger at God “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.” – C.S. Lewis. A Grief Observed, pg 6
In his spiritual and ethnographic account of being a missionary to African Masai tribes in the 1960’s, Vincent Donovan writes of a surprising encounter with a Masai leader (Christianity Rediscovered, ch 4). Vincent begins his outreach to the Masai quite sincerely, by bringing up various spiritual themes and asking the people their opinion. During his first week with the Masai, he asks what they think about God (God was not a foreign concept to the Masai, they already believed in a supreme deity). “If I ever run into God, I will put a spear through him,” says one elder. As different as the Masai are from Westerners today, this sentiment toward God is surprisingly similar to our own reaction toward God when faced with mounting suffering.