The Wisdom of Qoheleth


I have recently been studying and digesting the ideas presented by Marcus Borg in a book entitled Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally.  The chapter that I find particularly meaningful at this time is Borg’s commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes.  It’s interesting that I chose to call my counseling practice Season’s of Life based on the oft quoted passage from Ecclesiastes that begins “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”, yet Ecclesiastes has never been a favorite book of the Bible for me.  Like many readers I have felt a certain despair and hopelessness settle over me as I read such phrases as “Vanity of vanities: all is vanity”.  Borg invites the reader to explore the question, “Was Qoheleth (meaning wisdom teacher) an individual worn down by and burned out on life? Or was he, perhaps “among the wisest of the wise?”


You will have to read the book to determine your own answer to the question.  However, here are a few ideas presented for you to reflect upon.  Borg states that the metaphorical meaning for the word “vanity” in Ecclesiastes sugggests: “breath, vapor, mist or fog” …something that we cannot get hold of, something that comes and goes.  Tied in with this sense of “insubstantiality” is Qoheleth’s frequent and “haunting” emphasis on death…that death is a certaintity but we know not when or how it will come.  Qoheleth’s position is that conventional wisdom, that which culture and community identify as important for the good life (i.e. fame, success, material possessions), are meaningless when seen within the context of the certainty and unpredictability of death.


Well, so far I’m still feeling despair and hopelessness.  What about you?  But here is the good news.  Qoheleth, the wisdom teacher, suggests that death is the “master teacher who teaches us how to live”…”the teacher of true wisdom”.  Wisdom teaches us that life is so much more than fame and fortune and that meaning and purpose is found in living fully that which comes into our lives.  As Borg puts it, “…in Ecclesiastes, life is not about pursuing the rewards promised by the path of conventional wisdom (religious or secular), but about living in the present.  Seeing the futility of grasping and the inevitability and yet unpredictability of death drives us into the present.  True wisdom means carpe diem: ‘seize the day.’  Don’t miss it; don’t let it slip by unnoticed; don’t live it in the fog; don’t waste it chasing the wind.”


There is no better example of seizing the day then that of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Jesus did not strive to “make a name for himself”, he did not seek wealth—in fact he sought just the opposite—to have few material possessions.  Jesus knew that cultural norms would only distract him from living life in a radically full and meaningful way.  Now when I read that oft quoted passage I celebrate the author’s emphasis on living every moment…every single moment of every season of our lives…moments or sorrow as well as joy, moments of peace and moments of brokenness, moments of birth and moments of death…every single moment of every single day is given to us to learn, and grow and gain wisdom in the fields of the Lord.


With prayers for wisdom,

Debbie Kohler