procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ecclesiastes 1.1-11

Ecclesiastes begins next week.

So far two chiasms (only two I hear you cry!)

The first is pretty simple, yet encompasses the entire book:
1.1 Introducing the words of Qohelet
      1.2 The theme: vanity
            1.3-12.7 The theme discussed
      12.8 The theme: vanity
12.9-14 Concluding the words of Qohelet
This is fairly unremarkable, although where the introduction finishes is still a little up in the air as the book does seem to reset from 1.12.

But what this does demonstrate is:

  1. There is a clear introduction and conclusion: in between we will hear from Qohelet on life under the sun.
  2. There are two different assumed speakers: the 'frame' narrator, and Qohelet.
  3. 1.2 and 12.8 state the theme: vanity, or 'hbl', is one way that all things can, for good or ill, be rightly described.

After the introduction:

  • a question (1.3)
  • five examples (1.4-8)
  • a summary (1.9-11)

Compare this with the reverse order - statement, examples, question - in chapter three. But here is the chiasm of chapter 1.3-11:
3 - a question - why do we bother doing anything?
      4 the paradox of humans on the earth - we are in flux yet the earth is solid
           5 the example of the sun - always moving
                6 the example of the wind - untameable
           7 the example of the water - always moving
      8 the paradox of the senses - never satisfied yet weary from sensing 
9-11 a statement - nothing new achieved, no one will be remembered.
You'll notice that I've placed v6 separately to the other four examples; here Qohelet introduces the theme of the wind, which he will go on to say is impossible to tame, to grasp hold of, which he describes as the epitome of the vanity which is life: trying to grab hold of something intangible.

So what is the point? (v3) Nothing new will ever be achieved, and no one who does (if they could) would be remembered. (9-11) And yet even in the introduction we are given a hint, with a reference to Job 28. God is the creator of people, of the earth, of the sun, of wind and water. (4-8) Whatever the point of life under the sun might be, it begins with acknowledging God's sovereignty in creation and our absolute finitude.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Anzac Day and Qohelet

I often feel guilty on Anzac day. I've never fought in war; my immediate line includes only a grandfather who went to Darwin a bit too late for anything of consequence. For 30 years I've stayed away from the marches; even then I was on duty for any of the onlookers who might need a bandaid. I occasionally watch the Gallipoli dawn service, because at least that's on at a reasonable hour. But for the last few years,  nothing. 

But as the years go by, so increases my cynicism. I saw a picture of my cousin marching - why? For whom? Where did he get those medals? And why is the only mention of this rich history he feels he belongs to a secret the rest of the year, discoverable only through a facebook post? (He may have good reason - we've just never talked about it!)

But then I think about the causes of war, and with the rare exception, they're meaningless. Chasing land, resources, energy, prestige. At best, a principle misunderstood by most and forgotten not long into it. At least in the good old days, the kings and generals were in the fight and a loss would mean their life. 

But wars are fought and won and lost and life just goes on around it all. Death, disease, rape, pillage, destruction, PTSD, buried and forgotten landmines, retributive attacks… and then, once you've buried your dead, you are all supposed to get back to whatever life is left to you. 

I don't mean to say war isn't inevitable, but when is it ever best? When does it ever achieve what it's supposed to? Seriously, think back to any war you can, and when did it achieve good? It may have gone some ways to halting great evil, but did it bring about good

Reading the book of Ecclesiastes these last weeks has forced me to reflect on what we can actually grasp hold of - what is not just a chasing after wind? And whatever it is we seek in war, it always turns out to be such a task - trying to hold on to something intangible and elusive. 

So today we had lunch with family and friends. We made the most of life under the sun, because, despite the glory of the Commando comics I devoured as a child, war is hell, and life is too short to spend it fighting someone else's fight. 

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