October 17, 2017

The God of Ecclesiastes

Jonathan Threlfall

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It is deeply ingrained in our intuition that there is some kind of deity out there — a higher power that is responsible for much of what we see and experience. Recently, a study at the University of Oxford concluded that “human thought processes were ‘rooted’ to religious concepts.” (This study came with a price tag of £1.9 million in research money.)

Since our thought processes are “rooted to religious concepts,” what concept governs our thoughts about God?

To put it differently, if we had only our observations about the universe, our consciences, and human history, what kind of God would we conceive of?

Would this god be distant or intimate? Angry or loving? Would there be one? two? or many? It is understandable why humans — reasoning apart from any kind of divine revelation — have conceived of a pantheon or a dualistic conception of the divine, since our universe is a perplexing mix of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, order and chaos.[1] These bizarre alloys are reflected in the unrestrained and fractious gods of the Greek and Roman pantheon, in the dualist cosmology of Manichaeism, and in the virtually countless gods and goddesses of Hinduism. People tend to conceive of deities that best account for the bewilderments of their lives.

How Ecclesiastes depicts God

The God depicted in Ecclesiastes is certainly the God of the Bible — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But Solomon contemplates him without much regard to previous revelation. Unlike most of the rest of the Old Testament, which often refers to God’s self-revealing words and acts in the Pentateuch, Ecclesiastes is almost completely silent about these things. That is why some people have suggested that Ecclesiastes was intended to be a kind of “gospel tract” for foreign dignitaries unfamiliar with the God of the Hebrews. To understand Ecclesiastes, no prior knowledge of Israel’s history or sacred writings (the Pentateuch) would be necessary.

The fact that Ecclesiastes does not assume prior knowledge about Israel or Israel’s God makes it particularly useful for reaching those who do not believe in such a god, or any god at all. Anyone who has reflected on the apparent meaninglessness of life, the frustration of unfulfilling pleasures, and the agony of injustice can instantly relate to the message of this book. They will find that the book gently tugs at their own hearts — laying bare an aching hole that only God — the God of the Bible — can fill.

How Ecclesiastes points to Christ

Of course, for those of us who believe the Bible understand that God is not silent. He has revealed himself, and Jesus Christ is the culmination of his self-revelation. The question that Solomon asks near the beginning of the book — “Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new?” (1:10) — has been answered in Jesus Christ. His living a sinless life was new. His rising from the dead was new. And anyone who believes in him will become new as well (2 Corinthians 5:17). Since Jesus, by his death and resurrection, has broken the death spiral of humanity, we can know the truth of Solomon’s words: Life under the sun is not all there is. God will bring every deed into judgment. He will make everything beautiful in his time.

The God of Ecclesiastes appears to be silent and shrouded. But Ecclesiastes also holds out the hope that this now-silent God will shatter the silence, tear the shroud, and render his final judgment on everything. With the coming of Christ, the final rending of this silent mystery has begun. Even now, the sunbeams and echoes from that future world of righteousness have begun to pierce and reverberate into our world — even if ever-so faintly.

Maranatha!


Jonathan Threlfall serves as youth pastor at Bible Baptist Church in Matthews, North Carolina, with his wife, Christa, and their three children. He blogs about theology, ministry, and culture at jonathanthrelfall.com, where this article first appeared. Republished here by permission.

  1. In some ways, the most sophisticated advances of modern science (cosmology, in particular) have only thickened the fog, showing how our universe is even more complex and obscure than we could have ever imagined. If you doubt this, just read John Brockman’s book The Universe. []


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