Every since I was a kid, I have loved books. Whether it was visiting the local library, hanging out in my dad’s office, or sitting reading encyclopaedias while my parents were visiting with friends, books were a doorway to a world of experience, information and knowledge. Books awakened in me a passion for learning and discovering new ideas about anything and everything.
My fascination for books drew me to the Bible. The Bible is an amazing book, or more accurately, a collection of stories, writings, songs, poems and prophecies. Like a huge library, the diversity throughout the various books of the Bible is quite extraordinary. I have my favourite parts of the Bible but I have enjoyed venturing to some of the less travelled sections too. As a pastor once said when I was younger, “If you want to know God’s will for your life, read all the verses you haven’t underlined!” There’s some truth in that.
One of my favourite sections of the Bible is what is referred to as the Wisdom Writings found in the Old Testament - Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.
- The book of Psalms is a poetic and literary sanctuary where humans share their joys and struggles with brutal honesty in God's presence.
- The book of Proverbs describes wisdom, which is the ability to see life from God’s perspective and translate that into daily skills for living. As a teenager, I often read a proverb a day and found much practical guidance from this sacred text. The sages often sought to motivate wise behaviour by linking it to reward, but in reality, bad things happen to good people, and as a result, the wise are not always rewarded as they expect. This raises the question of the justice of God.
- Both Job and Ecclesiastes struggle with the apparent disconnect between God's justice and our actual experience of life as it happens.
- Finally, the Song of Songs is a passionate love poem that reminds us that God is interested in more than just our brains and our spirits; he wants us to enjoy our bodies and our sexuality is part of us as humans being created in the image of God. As a teenager, I must admit wandering inquisitively to the pages of this book during many a boring sermon!
Just over a month ago, I gave my last sermon as Senior Minister of a large church in Melbourne. In that message, I shared some reflections on the meaning of life from my current vantage point. What has meaning for us changes over time and as you grow older, this question of what really matters seems to increase its volume in our heads and hearts.
As an overflow of this, I have recently been reading slowly through the books of Ecclesiastes, a book that I think everyone should read at least once a year. In this unsettling book, the main character outlines his quest to find meaning and satisfaction in life as he continually turns to consider, know, search out and seek. The reader is drawn along the quester’s journey as he recalls a series of dead ends that he pursued. Like meandering through a complex maze or labyrinth, meaning in life is sought through an extended variety of avenues. It is a long journey and one of doubt, questioning, uncertainty and ambiguity. At times there is hope, while at other times there is only despair at the paradoxes that life brings. The book calls the reader to engage with the excruciating tension of this journey and enter the conversation it evokes.
Tomorrow: Part 2 of The Quest for Life’s Meaning