Years ago, Dr. Ardel Canaday wrote an outstanding, lengthy article on the book of Ecclesiastes (arguable one of the least understood biblical books among Christians). In the article, entitled QOHELETH: ENIGMATIC PESSIMIST OR GODLY SAGE?, Canaday cogently refutes the view that Ecclesiastes is an expression of existentialism or a soulless, secular hedonism. On the contrary, in Ecclesiastes we see a nuanced, realistic view of life in a fallen world. Quoheleth (the narrative voice in the book of Ecclesiastes) is a wise sage, instructing believers on how to exercise godly enjoyment in one’s work, family, and the created order–as well as find ultimate meaning in the relation of one’s activities to his Creator, even activities which (in and of themselves) may often appear frustratingly meaningless (if not, in addition, marred with natural and/or moral evil). Here’s an excerpt:
It is Qoheleth’s orientation to the Scriptural account of creation which forms his presuppositional basis for a world and life view. He recognized a great disparity between his world and that which came directly from the creative hand of God; the curse had intruded to disrupt the harmony of creation. The evil that Qoheleth observed “under the sun” was not inherent in nor of the essence of creation, but was externally imposed. The curse of Gen 3:17ff. becomes in Qoheleth’s language disjointedness and discontinuity or kinks and gaps which are irrevocable (1:15) because they have been imposed by God (7:13). By the curse God subjected creation to the frustration of bondage and decay (cf. Rom 8:19-21), creating the enigma which bewilders men. The world has been turned upside down, so that it bears little resemblance to the pristine paradise that it once was. For Qoheleth then, the world was neither what it once was nor what it will be therefore he designed his book, not to “wrest some form of order from chaos” or to master life, but to bring men to acknowledge that this world and life in it is marked by aimlessness, enigma, and tyranny. Qoheleth upholds the creational design to celebrate life as a divine gift which is to be enjoyed as good, something to be cherished reverently and something in which man delights continually. This, perhaps, is the greatest enigma in Qoheleth–his bold assertion of the meaninglessness of life “under the sun” and his resolute affirmation that life is to be celebrated joyfully. The fact that he unequivocally maintained both is not proof that Qoheleth was a double-minded man–secular and religious. He was not a pessimist who saw nothing better than to indulge the flesh. He was a godly sage who could affirm both the aimlessness of life “under the sun” and the enjoyment of life precisely because he believed in the God who cursed his creation on account of man’s rebellion, but who was in the process, throughout earth’s history, of redeeming man and creation, liberating them from the bondage to decay to which they had been subjected (cf. Rom 8:19-21). Because Qoheleth was a man of faith, he held this perspective, for it was through his faith in the God who revealed himself that Qoheleth knew what the world once was and what it will be again. It was because of this orientation that so many enigmatic and antithetical considerations and observations are held in proper tension within his mind and within his book.
Read the whole thing.
Also, I would highly commend a series of sermons on the book of Ecclesiastes by Pastor Brian Borgman of Grace Community Church in Minden, NV. You’ll find them available for free listening at this link on Sermon Audio. Borgman is the author of Feelings and Faith, Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life (which I’ve endorsed and about which I’ve interviewed him).