Bible Evangelism Theology

ASK at the Cathedral – 1 – Nothing New Under the Sun

Last week we began a new ten part series ASK at the Cathedral –  on Ecclesiastes – God’s Word to Today’s World…

This coming Tuesday we will be looking at Ch. 2   “No Satisfaction!- (Why are wealth, wisdom and sex not enough?)” .  Feel free to pray wherever you are in the world, come along if  you are able (12:15 on Tuesday – bring your own lunch!), bring a friend…invite others…

This is our promo for this week –

Here are the notes from the talk – the notes are fuller than the actual talk – because of the time limit…And here is the video – apologies for the sound quality – we will be doing live stream next Tuesday…

Philip Yancy  – Carl Jung tells us that a third of his cases were suffering from no other neurosis other than the ‘senselessness and emptiness of their lives”.

Despair – Why do people commit suicide? Why do people evince such despair? Walker Percy “ Why do more people commit suicide in San Francisco the most beautiful city in America, than in any other city? In Europe the suicide capital is Salzburg, Austria. Why does a man who has a good house, a good job and enjoys unprecedented cultural and recreational facilities still feels bad without knowing why? Existential despair did not come from Auschwitz but from the cafes of Paris, the coffee shops of Copenhagen. Philip Roth – “In the West everything goes and nothing matters. In the East nothing goes and everything matters.”

Wendell Berry speaks of his comfortable US upbringing “we knew and took for granted: marriage without love; sex without joy; drink without conviviality; birth, celebration and death without adequate ceremony; faith without doubt or trial; belief without deeds; manners without generosity…such humanising emotions as pleasure in small profitless things, joy, wonder, ecstasy were removed as by an operation on the brain.

This is a book written by someone who is called The Teacher. It is mainly written by Solomon – or someone in the Solomonic tradition – ch. 1 v. 1. The book is called Ecclesiastes because it means assembly – it is the word from which we get ‘ecclesiastical’ or church. It is a gathering of people who want to listen to the wisdom of the teacher. That is what we are doing here this morning.

Everything is meaningless – or vanity – The word meaningless appears over 35 times in the book. The rich get richer the poor get poorer. Evil people prosper, tyrants reign, disease spreads, everyone dies and turns to dust, life is unfair, nothing makes sense the whole world is twisted. Eat, drink and be merry. What is the point of working hard/ besides which we all die in the end. What is such a book doing in the Bible?

The Dialogue of Pessimism

There was an ancient school of literature which was known as the Pessimistic school. In the Dialogue of Pessimism (a Babylonian work of the fourteenth century BC) suicide is the only answer to the problem of life. In the Epic of Gilgamesh the god Shamash states bluntly ‘The life you pursue you shall not find’. There is a school of writing today which reflects that – Jean Paul Sartre. Camus. Nietzsche. The hopelessness which is felt when you see nothing that will save you – the people jumping out of the Twin Towers building. The elderly Jewish couple who realise what the smoking chimneys at Auschwitz mean and throw themselves upon the electric fences.

Ecclesiastes belongs to this school – yet it has a very different conclusion and meaning. In fact there is a great deal of joy in this. Not the kind of joy that is brought about by ignorance – just ignore it and it will go away. The scene in Schindler’s list where the women are discussing in their barracks the rumours of gas chambers – no it cannot be. Nor the joy that is brought about by illusion, false hope. This is a book that faces up squarely to the reality of life but does not result in despair. Sometimes it seems as though we are only presented with two choices in life – either face up to life with all its bleakness, horror and meaninglessness, or escape into a world of illusion, false hope etc. Whether that illusion might be.

One other point in terms of style. What is happening here? It could be that the Teacher is having a debate with himself. Torn between what he cannot help seeing and what he still cannot help believing. There is a great deal in this. Who of us has not wrestled with doubts and fears?

Or it could be that the Teacher is challenging us – asking the man of the world to think through his position to the bitter end. It is a challenge to the secularist. The Teacher burns at the injustices and wrongs in life, he mourns the passing of youth and the inevitability of death but he looks for something more. The secularist view – which is the prevailing majority opinion in our society – at least by those in power and with influence has a different take. What the teacher is doing is taking what the secularist thinks and asking them to work it out to its logical conclusion. It is a direct challenge. Can you take it?
So let’s go on to look at this first chapter

1) What goes around comes around – v. 2-11.

Everything is meaningless. It is a quote from  Psalm 39 – “You rebuke and discipline men for their sin; you consume their wealth like a moth— each man is but a breath. Selah” (Psalm 39:11) Each man is vanity. Hebel. Used 39 times in this book. In this first chapter we see two evidences of that. This meaninglessness/vanity means brief, insubstantial – perhaps froth. Empty, Unreliable. Frail. Futile. Lack of discernible purpose. Absurd. The word is related to wind and mist and is used for things that do not last, cannot be grasped or are not worthwhile. A breath. That is what human life is like. So much of existensalist literature reflects that – Yancy “flat emotions, a radical indifference to others, the sensation of drifting, numbness to pain, a resigned acceptance of a world gone mad” Donnie Darko – Mad World. Camus’s L’Etranger Meursault says – the outsider. “It makes little difference whether one dies at the age of thirty or threescore and ten, since in either case, other men and women will continue living, the world will go on as before”

What about work? What do we gain? The toil here is both physical labour and mental anguish. It is hard work. Trouble. Misery. What is the dividend we get at the end of life? None says the Teacher. On our tombstone is the inscription ‘No Profit’. It is a big zero – when we ad dup the plus’s in our lives and the negatives the balance sheet comes out zero or negative. If there is no meaning there is no profit.

Contrast this with ‘nature’ which seems to go on forever. There is an irony in this verse. Jerome “What is more vain that this vanity: that the earth, which was made for humans, stays – but humans themselves, the lords of the earth, suddenly dissolve into the dust?”. The restless circularity of nature. There is actually though no gain for creation in her toil. The wind blows, the streams flow, the sun rises, the sun sets, the ocean is never full. This last idea is indicative of weariness – everything flows but it is never full. All this activity does nothing significant.

V.8 then goes on to express the human experience of this restless weariness. Despite the activity of the creation it is unable to provide us with any lasting satisfaction. Emotional and psychological satisfaction. There is always more to hear and always more to see. We are never there. And we are always exhausted.
Now we go on to the circularity of human history. The generations come and the generations go – and there does not seem to be much purpose to it. There can be nothing new – history is a closed circuit.

v.10 – But what about that which appears to be new? It is an illusion. But what about nuclear power for example? The technological advances may be new but the people who wield them are not. We get really excited about new inventions that are going to change the world but they soon sink down to our former level. In fact the only reasons things seem new to us is that we have forgotten the past.

v.11 – nihilism. Past events are forgotten. Future events will be forgotten. More personally we will be forgotten. Over 50% of Britain’s under 35’s cannot tell you anything about the Holocaust and do not know what Auschwitz was. Secularism will lead to the same again – “He who does not learn from history is destined to repeat it”.
There is no real progress. .

2) Chasing the wind v. 12-18.

When he tries to understand all this – he grows in knowledge but it does not get him anywhere. His first avenue of escape is philosophy.

v.12 – Solomon as the king had all the resources necessary. He had the libraries, the power and the money. He set his heart – he studied hard and this is what he found. His search project leads to frustration rather than enlightenment.

a) There is a heavy burden God has laid on men. Could also be translated ‘grievous evil ’or‘ miserable businesses. We may live as secularists but the problems we face have been ordained by God. Mankind thinks and plans. We have been wired that way. We want to understand. The problem of life is for us all not just a hobby for philosophers. The quest of meaning is a quest for God and it is something that God has placed in our hearts. Acts ch. 17 v. 26-28. “The creator has instilled in every human being the desire to know the answers to life’s ultimate questions. Part of that which distinguishes humans from animals is the desire to know origin, destiny and purpose; to understand the why and how of all things. Even those who have no walk with the Lord feel this compulsion to discover the truth”

b) Humans are frustrated – v.14 – we desire gain, satisfaction and a sense of progress but that keeps eluding us. We end up chasing wind. Ambition for the unattainable.

c) There are twists and gaps in our thinking – v. 15. More than our thinking. In human life and in the environment. Our wisdom may help in many things but it cannot solve the fundamental problem of life.

The end result of all this was that he also looked at other alternatives – folly, pleasure, money etc. But it all still ended up with the same result. “The more you understand, the more you ache” The wise man becomes ever more conscious of the scope of his ignorance and impotence, of the uncontrollable power of nature, of great evils which he is powerless to remedy. To a certain extent, ignorance is bliss (1:18).

Conclusion: Is that it?

Is there no ‘but’? This is all true. This is the position of the secularist. But is that it? No. You will notice the key expression – ‘under the sun’. It is used 29 times in this book. It means without God. That is the old perspective. With a NT perspective we can see things differently. We still groan, the creation still suffers, and yet we know what is happening and why it is happening and we wait for something different.

Go back to the question of the Creation. Without God it is meaningless. The OT sees the creation as being full of God. But take away God and there is only meaninglessness. No God – what is the point? We are left with Tsunamis and natural disasters, with no explanation and no help. The OT loved the idea of admiring the skies, seeing nature sing for joy and the lessons taught by animals, grass, wind and trees. But without God none of it makes any sense. Look at Romans ch. 8 v. 20 – which refers to Ecclesiastes.

Come back to the idea of history. Is it all pointless? Going nowhere? The Israelite believed that God was in control of history – that it really was ‘His Story’. History is traveling to a goal. Without God there is no purpose and no new thing.
Again with God there is remembrance – we develop a longer term perspective. Later we are to be told by the Teacher to remember our Creator. That is all pointless if he does not exist.

And what about that weariness and exhaustion – that burn out of nature. What did Jesus say? Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest!

And what about you. Are you like the people Job describes..”They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace. Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?” GK Chesterton – “All men matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.” But it is what Jesus teaches us.

 

 

 

 

14 comments

  1. What a horrific thought. Going to the grave deliberately refusing God in one’s life.

  2. ― Carl Gustav Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul:-“I have treated many hundreds of patients. Among those in the second half of life – that is to say, over 35 – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has really been healed who did not regain his religious outlook.”

  3. Best wishes for this outreach, Pastor.

    ” @theweeflea

    David Robertson Retweeted
    Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    @Ayaan

    “The deeply divided society we now live in increasingly reminds me of clan or tribal behaviour in Africa.”

    My latest for @unherd:https://unherd.com/2021/05/tribalism-has-come-to-the-west/ …”

    This reminds me of something that was mentioned in that long discussion on the uber-woke Tasmanian writer, Philippa Moore. The fact she was actively blocking and unfriending followers on social media simply for having different political views just reinforces echo chambers and tribalism. If she is no longer able to even tolerate having people of different views follow her or engage with her on social media, that really isn’t too far from a ‘civil war’ mindset. Ie, if you no longer tolerate any differing views from your neighbours, it isn’t that far a step from wanting to silence them permanently if a civil war situation were to arise. 🙁

    This really shows the liberals at their most intolerant and potentially dangerous.

    1. Yes, that was an interesting thread with all those Tasmanians critiquing Philippa Moore’s incredibly woke and bizarre tweets. I just had a look at her Twitter and that of her husband again. She is just lamenting the fact she is too scared of COVID to jump on a plane to the mainland for a shopping trip:

      https://mobile.twitter.com/philippa_moore/status/1390086933389275138

      I know a lot of poor, working class Tasmanians who could never afford to fly to Melbourne for something as frivolous as a shopping trip. I am just fortunate I have been able to travel to places like Tassie and Europe a lot for my work – my parents were too poor to travel much when I was young despite years of suffering, sacrifice and hard work.

      Anyway, that aside, there is one interesting new Tweet there from her husband which might give some insight into why he is the way he is:

      “… during the 90s she [his mum] got into New Age which probably inspired me the most leading into my love of ambient and electronica.”

      https://mobile.twitter.com/tomschoon/status/1391511353769140228

      I am not sure if Tom Schoon means his mother was into New Age just as a mysical genre or if he means she was into the religion, too. If he meand the latter, it kight explain his ultra-woke position on every subject inder the sun.

      Anyway, I thoroughly agree, Jean, that the ceasement of dialogue and increasing poparisation of positions can set the stage for a civil war. Look at France and the USA in recent months. It seems unthinkable in Australia at the moment but that kind of attitude of middle-class and upper middle-class liberals like Philippa Moore no longer listening to working class conservatives is a worrying sign, even if she is an extreme outlier.

      PM Morrison is right – social media can be a tool of the devil with the way it is leading to this polarisation and narrowing of views. So ial media has been around long enough now that we can gauge its effects and see the enormous harm it can do to the cohesion of our social fabric.

      It is harder to ignore a contrary opinion in face to face conversation in real life. You can’t hit an ignore button on someone in real conversation.

      1. Yes, I am not sure from that tweet if Tom Schoon means his mother was into New Age music, New Age religion or both.

        I searched for more information. His mother, Julia Schoon, passed away a few years ago and his father died earlier this year. Please pray for this poor young man that he may come to know Christ, accept Him as Lord of his life and be saved.

        I cannot believe Philippa Moore’s tweet though. For all her promotion of environmentalism and caring for the planet, she thinks nothing of jumping on a jet plane and flying to Melbourne for a shopping trip. So it turns out she is just another sanctimonious hypocrite, telling us poor plebs how to live our lives while she jets around. How many times have we heard this from celebs? Shades of Harry and Meghan there. 🙁 I wonder how she justifies it to herself.

        It does show the difference in lifestyles between social classes as you say, too. I lived in Tassie for a while. With its high unemployment in the 1990s and lower than average standards of living, I knew many, many working class battlers in Tassie who could not afford to fly to the nainland on a whim, let alone for a shopping trip. For them, it was a once-in-a-decade experience, at best. Airline deregulation made some difference, lowering the cost of fares, but it still wasn’t something most Tasmanians could do on a regular basis.

        At any rate, please pray for Philippa too that she may come to know Christ and be saved, along with her husband.

        Yes, the polarisation caused by social media is very worrying. Once people of different classes and political outlooks no longer even talk to each other, I worry about recourse to violence to make opinions heard as dialogue breaks down.

      2. The other orryjng thing is that Philiippa Moore is very vocal on social media in support of the Aboriginal cause and, as I documented elsewhere on this site ( https://theweeflea.com/2021/03/08/letter-from-australia-84/ ) , she was recently on an ABC radio prigram with Michael Mansell. Mamsell was, of course, infamously cahoots with Colonel Gadafi.

        “In 1987 and 1988, Mansell had gone to Libya seeking funding for his organisation from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. He also sought to join Gaddafi’s Mathaba worldwide group of insurgents…”

        https://www.theaustralian.com.au/subscribe/news/1/?sourceCode=TAWEB_MRE170_a&dest=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theaustralian.com.au%2Fnational-affairs%2Fopinion%2Fquestioning-credentials-of-an-aboriginal-elite%2Fnews-story%2Fbb46a8c580ea5e77d752f895c5aa0214&memtype=anonymous&mode=premium&nk=7685e3a1435843a1e50565338e1362ff-1620682753

        “So, surprisingly, has Michael Mansell, who in 1988 went to Libya to attempt to link his so-called Aboriginal Provisional Government with Colonel Gaddafi’s network of 87 militias and insurgency groups worldwide.”

        https://www.theaustralian.com.au/subscribe/news/1/?sourceCode=TAWEB_MRE170_a&dest=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theaustralian.com.au%2Fnational-affairs%2Fleft-wingers-change-their-tune-on-gaddafis-regime%2Fnews-story%2F964024ce34efa378c6a4450dbae93a76&memtype=anonymous&mode=premium&nk=7685e3a1435843a1e50565338e1362ff-1620682160&v21suffix=160-b

        “In April 1987, at a conference sponsored by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya called “A Conference on Peace and Revolution in the Pacific”, Mansell spoke to a large international audience.”

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Mansell

        “Mr Mansell subsequently claimed Gaddafi’s support for a separate Aboriginal nation.”

        https://www.9news.com.au/national/libya-seeking-to-fiddle-in-sth-pacific/a289c433-8976-456b-8710-bc6ae9c7fbe4

        “When Michael Mansell visited Libya in the late 1980s to seek aid for his Aboriginal Provisional Government from the Muslim dictator Colonel Gaddafi, the Australian media treated him as a joke. But if Mansell had been an officer of a sovereign Aboriginal state, and if he had gone there at any time in the past decade and a half, it would not have been so amusing.”

        https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2016/11/break-australia-part/

        “… in the 1980s, driven by strongman Muammar Gaddafi’s anti-imperialist world view, Libya sought to parlay oil cash into influence in a range of struggling Pacific Island nations.

        Cabinet documents for 1988 and 1989 – released by the National Archives of Australia – show the government was quite concerned that a pariah nation and terrorist supporter was meddling in our part of the globe.”

        and

        “In Australia, Gaddafi had his supporters on both the far right and far left.

        They included Victorian Labor figure Bill Hartley and indigenous activist Michael Mansell who in 1987 attended Gaddafi’s conference on peace and revolution in the Pacific.

        Mr Mansell subsequently claimed Gaddafi’s support for a separate Aboriginal nation.”

        https://www.sbs.com.au/news/libya-seeking-to-fiddle-in-sth-pacific

        I assume Michael Mansell is still on anti-terrorism watchlists. I just hope and pray Philippa Moore never becomes so radicalised she ends up going in this durection. We know from her other tweets and posts she has no problem with violence for a political cause (celebrating the female agent who strangled a man with her bare hands and promotion of WW1 and attack on political pacifism in her blog post). Given Moore’s extreme woke left political views and willingness to go on air with Michael Mansell it is a genuine worry to me. I will continue to pray for her.

      3. Yes, that and Tom Schoon’s cartoon drawing of the decapitated politician and his praise of Antifa add up to… not a good look.

        From what I’ve read, I doubt Philippa and Tom would ever become radicalised to the point of violence (at least I certainly hope not) but their extremely woke views, liberal authoritarianism and shutting out of opposing political views show they are *some* way down this path already.

        Rest assured, I will continue to pray for them, Jean. Christ will work in their lives and lead them away from this dark path. God bless.

      4. I’ve just been reading through Tom Schoon and Philippa Moore’s Tweets and blog posts. They are very odd people and very much in a ‘woke’ echo chamber as you say.

        I can’t see them ever becoming radicalised enough to be terrorists thankfully but cheering on Antifa is bad enough since it could spur someone else to do something. Tom Schoon and Philippa Moore obviously DO support political violence in some circumstances, namely opposing the far right. They ned to be far more responsible with their social media posts, especially Philippa Moore, since she has a sizable number of ‘followers’.

        I can see the liberal left in general becoming progressively more violent in general through the echo chamber effect over time as you say. The fact that Philippa Moore would be willing to deliberately drive away ‘followers’ because they have different views is worrying enough, as you rightly point out. It is indeed a kind of ‘civil war’mentality, equivalent to a Croat not wanting to dialogue with Serbs anymore. Social media causing a ‘Balkanization’ of society and leading to a real Balkans-like scenario is a real risk but I wouldn’t read too much into these two eccentric social media gurus in general. They seem fairly harmless by themsrlves, unless they prove to be the canaries in the coalmine and the rest of the liberal left start to head down the same path. Thanks for the heads-up about them though.

      5. I was reading this and the other, long discussion. Yes, very extreme woke-ists.

        I did see another little bit of hypocrisy that is worth noting – for all of her discussion of her weight and body image pressure on women, Philippa Moore is quite prepared to turn around and write articles for Cosmopolitan. Do you remember the disgusting, foul-mouthed 1992 novelty song by rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby’s Got Back”? Well, for all its crudity and lustful lewdness, he specifically singles out Cosmo magazine as a publication that puts pressure on women to conform to a certain body image ideal and it was one of those publications that was alleged to have helped provoke the anorexia/bulimia epidemic of that time, so for Philippa Moore to then turn around and write for that publication reeks of opportunism and hypocrisy, unfortunately.

        Other than that, yes, they are quite extreme people. I will pray for her and her husband as you ask.

    2. I should have added before that I will of course pray for these poor, deluded kids, too. I want to see them saved as much as you do. God bless.

  4. The Aborigines wish freedom from Colonialism .

    They will achieve it in a couple of decades .

    China will liberate them

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