What the Hell Does it all Mean?
Humans differ from any other species on the earth. Our superior brain gives us a tremendous reasoning capacity that probes the depths of human existence. This intellect is closely intertwined with our spirituality, our immaterial part that seeks answers from something beyond ourselves.
Throughout the history of human existence, God worked to reveal himself to and develop a relationship with his people, the pinnacle of his creation. The Old Testament chronicles the story of God’s people, the Israelites. God chose these people to reveal himself to all nations. The Bible chronicles this story as well as writings that came out of this time period. A section of these writings is known as Wisdom Literature from which comes the book of Ecclesiastes. Many have debated the value of including Ecclesiastes in the canon because of its apparent godlessness. Nonetheless, after evaluating the book, Peter Kreeft in his book Three Philosophies of Life, calls Ecclesiastes “the great of all books of philosophy” (15). The content, logic, and personality of Ecclesiastes verifies this claim.
First of all we need to define “philosophy.” Often, just the word conjures up images of old, robed men stroking their flowing white beards and contemplating deep questions. We also may think of universities where professors and students hold seminars and debates. Most nonintellectuals probably cringe at the mention of the word because of these very images. Even the various dictionaries strongly associate philosophy with the academic world. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “philosophy” as “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, esp. when considered as an academic discipline”. The etymology also connotes “philosophy as a lofty intellectual term; the word originates from the Greek word “philosophia” which means the “love of wisdom”.
One definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, however, reveals a deeper, more personal meaning of “philosophy” by defining it as “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group”. Whether we realize it or not, we all live out of our individual philosophy. Our beliefs shape our decisions, goals, and perceptions. Thus, philosophy is not just for the intellectual. It also involves the common man because at some point everybody needs to answer life’s ultimate question of meaning.
Of course, philosophy is also an academic discipline, and we need to reckon with this when dubbing Ecclesiastes as the greatest philosophy book ever written. Critics often dismiss Ecclesiastes as the senile ramblings of an old man, presumably King Solomon. The author does not use a strict form to present his ideas, a highly-valued discipline in the formal study of philosophy. Because of this, he often seems to ramble and at times even changes his mind. Instead of presenting his thoughts with clean, objective methodology, he involves much emotion.
All these objections contain some legitimate points, yet we need to consider the basic qualities for great philosophy. Is the greatness and brilliance of a philosophy essentially measured by the form in which it is presented? Is the clean and articulate method of logic really the best? However necessary and good, the emphasis on form in modern philosophy has shifted our focus away from the actual content of the question. Perhaps this overemphasis on form came as a way of avoiding the reality of the burning question that demands an answer--the question of meaning. Without orthodox form or tact, Solomon faces this ultimate question of human existence with gut-wrenching honesty. This is philosophy that reckons with reality. This is great philosophy.
Ecclesiastes presents the world and our human existence as essentially meaningless. As the earth spins and revolves in the midst of a vast, swirling cosmos for who knows how many years, we are born. Throughout out our several decades of...
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