When the quarantine first began, I sent out a tweet that said, “I’ve been studying the book of Ecclesiastes this month. Given our current predicament, and the nature of Ecclesiastes, starting to think I might want to study a different book.”
After a month of the quarantine, and considerable time spent studying Ecclesiastes nonetheless, I see things very differently. In fact, I think it is a great book to read during the quarantine (and I’m not the only one). Here’s five reasons to consider reading it today.
1. Ecclesiastes addresses the problem of evil. Ever since the pandemic hit, people have been discussing and thinking about why God allows evil. My initial blog on why God might allow the coronavirus went viral. And quite a few people watched my dialogue with Clay Jones on suffering and evil. Clearly, COVID-19 has brought the problem of pain to the forefront of reflection and conversation.
While Ecclesiastes does not attempt a theodicy, it does not shy from addressing evil and suffering. 8:14 says, “There is a futility that is done on the earth: there are righteous people who get what the actions of the wicked deserve, and there are wicked people who get what the actions of the righteous deserve” (CSB). The writer of Ecclesiastes recognizes the limits of our abilities to explain unjust suffering, yet encourages trust in the sovereign God, nonetheless (9:1).
2. Ecclesiastes brings life perspective. Given the current pandemic, we have all been forced to look closely at how we spend our time and our money. Who has not asked, “Do I really need this?” or “Why am I doing that?” Ecclesiastes brings perspective on what really matters in life. We tend to fill our lives with busy projects, yet the author of Ecclesiastes wants us to ask if many of them are as valuable as we think, or merely a matter of “vanity.”
3. Ecclesiastes encourages us to live in light of the reality of death. Daily we are barraged with numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Wouldn’t it be easier to go back to our “safe” lives and not have to ponder death so frequently? The writer of Ecclesiastes encourages us to recognize the reality of death, and then to live our lives in light of it.
3:19-20 says, “For the fate of the children of Adam and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath. People have no advantage over animals since everything is futile. All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust.” We all know that death is coming, but as my friend Clay Jones notes in his recent book Immortal, we try to distract ourselves from this reality. Ecclesiastes can help remind us of the reality of death and point us towards a hopeful way of living because of the resurrection of Jesus.
4. Ecclesiastes reminds us that God will judge our lives. After twelve chapters of wise reflection, the writer of Ecclesiastes closes with these piercing words: “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14).
Even though times are dark and difficult, Ecclesiastes reminds us that our choices matter. It matters how we treat people. It matters what words we use. It matters how we use our time and money. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control our response. Even amidst the craziness, Ecclesiastes reminds us that we will all stand before God someday in judgment.
5. Ecclesiastes spurs us to seek contentment in the seasons of life. In perhaps the most famous part of Ecclesiastes, the writer tells us that “there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (3:1). There is a time for birth, and a time for death, a time to weep, and a time to laugh, and so on.
Ecclesiastes is a realistic book that recognizes the ups and downs of life. And yet amidst the uncertainty, it encourages readers to find contentment in the Lord. If Paul can find contentment in jail, we can all find contentment during the quarantine. Ecclesiastes reminds us that difficulties are part of life, but that contentment can be found in the Lord.
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If you are looking for evidence that the Christian story is really true, consider checking out the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict (co-written with Josh McDowell).