The Existential Philosophy of Ecclesiastes

faiththink
3 min readApr 10, 2022

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We sometimes tend to read the bible as a two-dimensional religious book that speaks only to “spiritual things” rather than appreciating the incredible philosophical, existential, epistemological, and ontological arguments that it presents. Such is the case in Ecclesiastes, which ultimately shows the meaninglessness of existence if it is not rooted in a source or beginning that is itself, the highest meaning, which of course, Scripture presents as YHVH, the Creator. Nearly three thousand years later, existentialist philosophers of modernity such as Kierkegaard, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, and Tillich wrestled with similar questions (some within a Judaeo-Christian perspective, some not) and reached the same conclusion, which has come to be referred to within philosophy as the idea of absurdity.

The idea of absurdity states that human effort to find inherent meaning fails and is thus absurd in light of the sheer vastness of the universe, as well as that of the “unknown” or “not yet known”. [1] Interestingly, Solomon said exactly the same thing three millennia ago:

All things toil continuously; no one can ever finish describing this. The eye is never satisfied with seeing, and the ear is never filled with hearing. (Ecclesiastes 1:8 LEB)

​When an individual realizes that neither that they themselves, nor their thoughts or actions have inherent meaning just because they exist, a feeling of despair, anxiety, fear, or gloom arises. The individual realizes just how absurd it is that short-lived, tiny specks of matter like us should think we are important to the entire cosmos, just because we exist. Again, Solomon has already covered this ground:

I saw all the works that are done under the sun. Look! Everything is vanity and chasing wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:14 LEB)

Just as he came from his mother’s womb naked, he will depart just as he came; he will take nothing with him for his toil. (Ecclesiastes 5:15 LEB)

Despite the fact that the Scriptures dealt with these questions early in the development of human society, Western civilization has engaged in countless academic and philosophical acrobatics, so as to offer any possible theory other than that of a meaningful, purposed Creator.

My son, be careful about anything beyond these things. For the writing of books is endless, and too much study is wearisome. Now that all has been heard, here is the final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:12–13 LEB)

Christians in the 21st century find themselves in an absurdist, nihilistic culture seeking an answer in anything but the Creator or His means of renewal and restoration — Jesus the Messiah. Oddly, this is not unlike what the early believers in Jesus experienced. In Acts 17:16–34, the Apostle Paul encounters Greek philosophers at a place dedicated to the airing of “new” answers to the great questions of meaning. Paul was a master of not only the Scriptures, but of an intelligent and spiritually formed worldview that could answer any other ideologies of the time. Should not the same be said of us?​

Solomon, in his era, eloquently described the empty existence of life lived without God, and his words in Ecclesiastes ultimately exhort us to seek and serve the Creator. As People of the Book, and with the example of God’s people gone before us, shouldn’t Christians today know and understand better than anyone the great questions — and the answer — that humanity seeks?

All Scripture Quotes: The Lexham English Bible, Fourth Edition. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012.​

​​[1]. Steven Crowell, Existentialism, last modified Medium, accessed January 8, 2015, http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2010/entries/existentialism/.

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