I recently had a bit of a disagreement with fellow blogger and OT professor, Dr. Mariottini that I wondered if you all could weigh in on. (You can find it here.) The disagreement concerned the interpretation of Qohelet (the voice in the book of Ecclesiastes). These days it seems that the standard Conservative/Evangelical interpretation of Qohelet is as follows: Without God there is no meaning in life, but with God a person can experience a meaningful life.
Here is the problem as I see it: The following statement is not found in Qohelet, nor is anything that even resembles it.
There are a few verses that Dr. M used to rebut my point:
For to the man who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God, 2:26
That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil-- this is the gift of God, 3:13
Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-- this is a gift of God, 5:19
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do, 9:7
I suggest that a close reading of the text shows that in context these are references to God's sovereignty. God is in control of meaning/satisfaction, and one should be happy if God grants to you the good life and the ability to enjoy it.
I realize that this upsets the typical interpretation of Qohelet. However, as I suggested to Dr. M, I believe that much of this interpretation has been driven by a desire to refute Nietzsche, Sartre, and other non-Christian existentialists who seem to promote the meaninglessness of life. As such, Qohelet became a useful god-of-the-gaps, and we used him to win an artificial battle with non-Christian philosophy.
I suggest that the point of Qohelet is not to use God as a variable in an equation. Ever seen the bumper sticker, "Know God, know peace. No God, no peace"? Qohelet is not saying, "Know God, know meaning. No God, no meaning." Rather, Qohelet's point is that meaning can never, (ever!) be found at the end of a simple equation. Rather, meaning is something that is something one is fortunate to find. All of life is hebel. Hebel is the Hebrew word that is often translated as "meaningless," and in my opinion it is incorrect to do so, for hebel is the situation of life that destabilizes all of our efforts to attain meaning.
What say you? Can we find in Qohelet a formula for the meaningful life, whereby God is the missing variable???
For a more technical discussion of some of the themes in this post see my essay
Nothing new under the Sun: An exegetical analysis of hebel as a deconstruction of the human experience
Dr. Claude Mariottini's post "The book of Ecclesiastes: Vanity of Vanities"