What is the book of Ecclesiastes all about? I read it once- it seems pessimistic and hopeless- though the last of the12th chapter is a bit okay. There it’s written nothing makes sense- life is all about eating and drinking and everything is nonsense and meaningless. The message of Ecclesiastes seems utterly different from the optimistic message of Gospel.
The Bible has a wide range of kinds of literary genre. God communicates with us through a surprisingly great number of ways. The Bible has history, poetry, narrative, prophecy, apocalypse and many other kinds of literature. Most of the Bible is God speaking to us. But there are a few books in the Bible which are actually us speaking to God. For examples, Psalms is a book of people speaking to God, not so much God speaking to us. Job is in this category as well. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are us speaking to us. In other words, these books are inspired by God, but they are Scripture in which humans talk to other humans about human things. They are wisdom literature. They are practical advice. They are not theological. Ecclesiastes is a sort of human philosophy, but it is inspired human philosophy. This makes it unique in all the Bible. In Ecclesiastes we have a record of an incredibly wise, educated, experienced person, looking at his life and, under the inspiration of God, talking to humans about human life. It is not prophecy!!! It is not history!!! It is not doctrinal in nature. It is a book about life on this earth, or as Solomon puts it, “life under the sun.”
For all these reasons, we should not expect Ecclesiastes to be like other Bible books. Ecclesiastes is pessimistic, because the human condition without God is meaningless and even hopeless. Solomon tells us this. He should know. We do not need to experience all of this for ourselves, because Solomon has done it for us. Will riches make us happy? If so, then Solomon would know. They do not. Will academic pursuits make us happy? What about pleasure? Solomon tells us that it is better to be educated than not educated. It is better to be successful than not successful. It is better to be wealthy than to be poor. But none of these things will makes us happy or fulfilled.
Again, like I said, this is humans talking to humans about life as a human. Ecclesiastes is really the only book in the Bible in which, under the influence and inspiration of God, we have this kind of book. You should read it this way. The message of Ecclesiastes is not “optimistic” because life lived as a human for only human sorts of things is not very good. In light of death, life appears to be meaningless. We need God. Without God, the things that humans go after are empty and meaningless. Do you not agree with Solomon on this? I assume that you agree with him. That is the point. It is not the job of Solomon in this particular letter to teach theology or doctrine or to describe what a relationship with God looks like. We have other books to do that.
The ultimate, final message of Ecclesiastes does have a silver lining. Life does have meaning and purpose, but that meaning and purpose is found in God. That is revealed, but only toward the end of the book. What a great book Ecclesiastes is!