Paul’s statement that ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain’ is one of the boldest sentences in Scripture. As Christians, it’s a passage that we often quote and that we readily intellectually assent to; however, most of us—if honest—sense that we are not really living it the way that Paul was. Our lives (time, money, passion) are not wholly given over to serving; and we do not face death fearlessly, longing for union with God. I’ve wanted to really understand these words. And as someone who now has an illness, I feel it’s imperative. This statement of Paul is found in the book of Philippians, which though a short letter, has some of the most recognized and poetic passages in the Bible. And much to my surprise, when I took a deeper look, I found that this book is all about suffering. So why does Paul write an entire letter addressing suffering?
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.