The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Turning to Ecclesiastes

This strange and paradoxical book is controversial and a favorite

Some time ago I noticed something strange about the strangest book in the Bible: I was meeting more and more people who admit it’s their favorite sacred text.

“I love Ecclesiastes,” one colleague told me, dropping her voice and shyly glancing around, as if a little worried someone might overhear.

“Ecclesiastes saved my life more than once,” another acquaintance said. He, too, spoke in a near-whisper.

Their enthusiasm—and caution—were understandable. Ecclesiastes contains some of the most famous verses in the Bible (“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die ...” 3:1-8). Readers I meet say these words helped them accept the deaths of loved ones.

This book is nestled near the geographic midpoint of Scripture, between Proverbs and the Song of Solomon. Yet this enigmatic, sacred writer is usually ignored by organized faith.

In 40 years of churchgoing, I’ve never heard a sermon on Ecclesiastes. By reputation, he’s a downer, a fatalist. “All is vanity!” the writer says. His moodiness unnerves official religion. Yet individuals warm up to him.

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February issue


Embracing diversity