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C. S. Lewis and Kohelet

In 1964 C. S. Lewis wrote a book on the Psalms where he makes a passing reference to Ecclesiastes. He is speaking of how even the most dire parts of the Bible can still shed light upon our understanding of God. He argues against dissecting these difficult texts through exposition and instead, letting them wash over our souls to impart the truth they do contain.

“I have gained something I might not have gained from a flawless, ethical exposition. The shadows have indicated (at least to my heart) something more about the light. Nor would I (now) willingly spare from my Bible something in itself so anti-religious as the nihilism of Ecclesiastes. We there get a clear, cold picture of man’s life without God. That statement is itself part of God’s word. We need to have heard it. Even to have assimilated Ecclesiastes and no other book in the Bible would be to have advanced further towards the truth than some men do.”

Unfortunately, C. S. Lewis lived in an era where the prevailing winds of scholarship blew only in the direction of seeing Ecclesiastes as a nihilistic book written by a bitter old man who had fallen away from God. That idea of the book was firmly entrenched for hundreds of years and it hindered even the best thinkers from seeing what Ecclesiastes was seeking to teach us. The expositional and systematic theologies that sought to explain the Bible did us a great disservice and robbed scripture of its potency. (see The Forest for the Trees)

Recently I have embarked on a project where I perform the entire book of Ecclesiastes while cooking a simple shepherd’s meal over a brazier. Last weekend, after the performance, a man in his 90’s told me that he had been reading Ecclesiastes all his life but this was the first time he actually understood it. His next comment echoed C. S. Lewis. “It seems I have spent too much time listening to people tell me what they think the Bible says instead of listening to what it is saying to me.”

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