White Collar Vanity

It didn’t take much reading for my theory on Ecclesiastes to be tested. In chapter 6 Qoheleth talks about toil, the working man’s world, not the domain of the rich and powerful. “All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.” (Eccl 6:7) So is Qoheleth talking about all of life being futility and not primarily the rich? Perhaps not.

Now come on, would I bother writing another post if I was wrong? :) Maybe but the temptation would be to just not say another thing. So how do I worm my way out of this one? If I’m any kind of Bible student, I’d better not worm out of anything the Bible says! However, I do notice that chapter 6 begins by addressing “a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires.” (v 2) So maybe just because Qoheleth talks about “toil” it doesn’t mean that he’s talking to blue collar workers after all.

The lesson of chapter 6 is that we can’t take it with us. This is a lesson we’re well aware of today, especially from the influence of naturalism on our thinking. Once you die, the thought goes, your light goes out and that’s that. If there is no afterlife there is nowhere to take your stuff to, right? Ancient cultures used to pile artifacts with their dead so that they could use them in the afterlife. PBS and National Geographic then employ the euphemism that these great kings and queens now live forever in our museums. Yea. That’s what they had in mind when they built those things. Sure.

So what’s the lesson today then? Michael Jackson isn’t going to be buried at Neverland with all his junk under a large pyramid. Is he? He isn’t, right? No? Okay, just checking. Anyway, there are modern ways to try to “take it with you.” One is the idea of dying broke. There’s a book on that subject and I’m not going to link to it. The idea is to figure out how long you’re going to live and then spend your money so that when you’re broke, you dies. I’m guessing the hard part is knowing when you’re going to die. But this is the modern idea of taking it with you. Spend it. America at her present day best, this.

The older way to take it with you was to leave your children a large inheritance. You “take it with you” by being well remembered after your death. Fat lot of good that does you, being dead and all, but there it is. This is a method Ecclesiastes comments on:

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. (Eccl 2:18-19)

So if you can’t take it with  you, you shouldn’t blow it on yourself and giving it to the kids doesn’t help, what are we supposed to do with it? The lesson is to not fixate on it. It comes, it goes, you go. So what? So don’t blow it foolishly and don’t cling to it, instead hold it loosely. The greater good, the greater joy is to delight in God. If he gives you wealth, that’s great, but ask yourself what would happen to you if you lost it all. Where would you go for consolation? The Teacher doesn’t give us answers yet, but he does paint us in to a pretty bleak corner.

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