Ecclesiastes teaches that all is vapor, nothing but vapor. Trying to shape and control the world is, Solomon teaches us, like trying to scupt the mist (the image comes from Jim Jordan).

Every ancient sage came to the same conclusion as Solomon. But for most ancient sages this realization led either to resignation (Stoic) or denial (Epicurean), to the alternatives that David Hart identifies as tragic melancholy and tragic joy. But frustration at the vaporousness of the world follows if we we EXPECT to be in control of it, if we think that it SHOULD yield to us and fulfill our every desire, if we have some claim by right to sovereignty over creation. But of course we do not. Frustration in the face of a vaporous world is just frustration at creatureliness, and the obverse of the desire to be as God.

On the other hand, tragic melancholy and tragic joy might come from the believe NO ONE is in charge, that not even god or the gods can shape the vapor. That is indeed terrifying, but there is only one thing that can be said in response: it is simple unbelief.

What Solomon teaches us, in the end, is not that the world is designed to frustrate us. Rather, he teaches that the world is designed to teach us our creatureliness, to remind us continually that God is God and we’re not. The only proper response to that kind of world is trusting joy, joyful trust.

More on: Theology

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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