The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again.
Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns.
All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.
All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.
That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one might say, "See this, it is new"? Already it has existed for ages which were before us.
There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.
I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.
And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.
I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.
What is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said to myself, "Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge."
And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind.
Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.
(Ecclesiastes 1:1-18, NASB)
When I can't think of somewhere in the Bible to read, I have a tendency to turn to either Hosea (I love the idea of God commanding one of his prophets to marry a hooker as a living object lesson, and teaching the prophet a little bit about how to really love someone - even when that someone doesn't remain faithful - with a love that loves period.) or Paul's letter to the Romans (It must be the theological side of me, 'cuz that's one heavy book of systematic theology.) or the book I'm settling into again… Ecclesiastes.
The main theme of the book is simple enough to pick out: "Life and everything about it is pretty pointless. Knowledge and wisdom? Right, even the fools and idiots can have a better life sometimes, it seems. Sex? Been there, done that. Wealth? It comes and goes. Good times? They have to end sometime. Wine? Wait until the hangover. But hey, enjoy live anyway. It's a gift from God, you know. Just don't make finding a purpose in life the end-all and be-all of your happiness. 'Cuz it ain't gonna happen. Take it for what it is, a gift to enjoy today, because tomorrow, you never know whose turn it's gonna be."
Something about the book's honesty really grabs me. Being part of a religion that tends to focus on the "wonderful plan that God has for your life" (as the most popular tracts say) and how God "blesses the socks off" those who believe in Him (in the non-gender-specific sense, since God is spirit and ultimately above such an earthly notion as gender), it's not common to hear about how pointless life can be. That just seems to rub raw against the popular notion that life is all roses and smiles when people decide to follow Christ as a Christian. But I love that somehow in the scope of time, God saw fit to include such a "depressing" (as I've heard it called) collection of writings in the middle of His book of sacred writings.
Some mistakenly believe that carpe diem is the sole property of the existentialists and that living "grace under pressure" (to borrow from Hemingway) came along with Saul Bellow and other modern writers. But all you have to do is read through the book of Ecclesiastes to see that's not the case at all.
The very essence of carpe diem seeps from Ecclesiastes like blood from an open wound.
Life can suck, but endure anyway. It's a gift, but it can also be a curse. Blessing and curse. It's not so different from the paradoxical teachings in the New Testament that tell us that to save our lives we must lose them, the least will be the greatest, or that the meek shall inherit the earth. Somehow, it's a common theme of God to hide his greatest lessons in things that seem to compete. A life that is not just a wonderful gift but also a painful curse. Treasures in easily breakable jars of clay.
I don't find the book depressing at all. Instead I find its honest look at the world oddly comforting. So what if there's nothing new. It takes the pressure off to try to create something new. Just create the best I'm capable of doing and don't accept less. So what if I'll never be rich. Big deal, the rich guys won't be able to escape the same ultimate fate I will.
Life can suck. So what?
I can still enjoy it anyway.