17/12/2011 by Shalim
I woke up around 4AM Friday morning for no particular reason, and had no desire to return to sleep, so I turned my laptop on and glanced quickly over my desktop, and saw my incomplete post on Ecclesiastes, for which I was struggling to put pen to paper. Meanwhile, I began to hear of the death of Christopher Hitchens on Facebook. Then ideas for my new post quickly began to spring up.
In case you may not have heard of him, Christopher Hitchens, among many things, was an outspoken atheist and brilliant orator; He had a special way with words. One would do well to call him a wordsmith. Unfortunately, he also was popular for using this gift to vilify the name of God and the Gospel. Hitchens was one of the spearheads of the ‘New Atheist’ movement that is distinguished for some belligerently sturdy attacks on religion. He debated people like George Galloway, leading supporter of Palestine and the Muslim people, William Lane Craig, leading Christian thinker, and Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Indeed, he was scheduled to debate my favourite Christian apologist, James White. That was until news came through that Mr Hitchens was diagnosed with Oesophageal cancer (tumour to the muscular tube that guides food to the stomach), and his life expectancy was very bleak.
The book of Ecclesiastes is a deep inquest into the human heart. Though we are not certain about who wrote it, theologians say that King Solomon did. The book describes the void that swells inside the human heart without God. It highlights the life of someone who exposes himself or herself to all manner of sin, in the hopes of gaining ultimate satisfaction and meaningfulness.
Ecclesiastes begins with a deep cry, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, Vanity of vanities! All is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2 ESV). If you want to know the reason for this conclusion the author got himself into, you have to read the book to see why he puffs this cry of despair. Nonetheless, it is pertinent for the purposes of this post to explain the reason the author cried “vanities of vanities”. The author of Ecclesiastes was clearly the wealthiest person around—and yet he recognised that something was missing—and with this, he attempted to look under every rock and behind every tree to grab hold of meaning. He put himself in every vulnerable spot, desperately trying to counteract the constant beatings of a cold world. He let himself loose, wildly, to the sin of sexual promiscuity (Ecclesiastes 2:8), the continual growth of personal wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:4). He also tried to “cheer” himself with alcohol (Ecclesiastes 2:3). This thought brings to mind a despondent stockbroker, who has miserably failed trying to grasp success, as he sits in a black and white room with a cigar, sipping away on his glass of whisky. This is one of my favourite passages from this book: I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”(Ecclesiastes 2:1-2 ESV)