If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
The last third of the book continues in much the same vein as the rest. It is chapter 9 of Ecclesiastes, paraphrased, that gives us the English idiom “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”, in other words there is no point denying ourselves life’s pleasures, since whether we enjoy them or not, we will all suffer the same fate of death, with our bodies returning to the earth (12:7) and no sensations or thoughts beyond that (9:10). Yet we should not neglect to work as well as rest and play (11:6), and throughout the book there are reminders that there is still a judgement (9:1, 11:9, 12:14).
What have I learnt from reading this most unusual book of the Bible – unusual in that it appears at first sight to negate all the other ones that instruct us to live in simplicity, chastity and humility, and work hard? Maybe what matters is not that we live like that, but that doing so makes us more aware of mortality. Denying oneself the “good things” in life may make it easier to be aware of our inner being and contemplate death, but if we can manage to enjoy life’s pleasures and find satisfaction in hard work while still being aware of the death that awaits our bodies and the judgement that awaits the soul, so much the better. Therein is wisdom, for Solomon obviously managed it.
So did Jesus, who seems to have had a whale of a time for the three years of his ministry in Galilee and Judea, knowing all along that a cruel death awaited him. Beyond that, he knew, he alone would not be judged, for he himself is the judge. But Jesus has experienced earthly life in all its pleasure and pain in order that he might judge us for our lives – not by how much we have suffered, but rather how much we have enjoyed it, while loving God and our neighbour as well.
The motto of the Anglican Diocese of Leeds for which I work is “Loving, Living, Learning”. I thinks Solomon would have adopted that – he knew how to love, he enjoyed life (despite its “vanity”) and he had learnt true wisdom.