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Of vanity and peace
Bible Speaks
Rev. L. Althouse

April 23, 2006
Background Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; John 20:19-23.
Devotional Reading: Luke 24:36-48.

Ecclesiastes is one of the most controversial books in the Bible. It was not accepted into the Old Testament canon until 100 A.D., and then only after great controversy and opposition. Its acceptance was probably due to the fact that the name of the book, Koheleth in Hebrew and Ecclesiastes in Greek, was thought by some to refer to King Solomon, a conclusion little accepted by scholars today. (Koheleth means either one who collects or addresses an assembly, a preacher or a speaker.)

Nevertheless, it has decided value for Christians today. Scholar Gerrit Wildeboer characterizes it as “the honest confession of an earnest man who doubts much that others readily believe, but who refuses to renounce the faith of his childhood.”

As Job bemoaned the human condition of mortality, Koheleth sees vanity as humanity’s plight: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ec.1:2)

In English “vanity,” is understood to mean “excessive pride” or “something worthless.” But the Hebrew word, hebhel, means “breath” or “vapor,” referring to the fruitlessness and transitoriness of life. “What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (1:3)

Vanity of vanities
You are never likely to find Ecclesiastes in a book of devotions. There is little uplift in its 12 chapters. But Koheleth verbalizes what so many people feel in their own hearts: a sense of life racing on aimlessly and with ever-increasing speed. He kept his childhood faith, but that faith enlightened only a little life’s grim darkness.

Koheleth made a tentative peace with this purposeless life. Despite life’s vanities, in chapter 11 he counsels his readers to make the most of the time, even if there is no assurance of success” “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” (11:1,6) Koheleth is a keen observer of the human condition, but he is not the source of the answer to the questions he raises.

In John 20:19-23, we see the disciples facing a “vanity of vanities” situation. Jesus has been crucified and they are confronted with the fact that they failed him in his supreme hour. It seemed that the Good News died with him on the cross. So what had been the purpose of all this? And what were they to make of Mary Magdalene’s testimony that “I have seen the Lord”? (Jn. 20:18)

Shalom to you
While pondering all this, they were suddenly confronted with Jesus himself: “Peace be with you.”

These words were common social greeting, but his “peace is deeper and more profound. “Peace” can mean the opposite of war and strife. It can also refer to the relations between members of a family and between a Christian and others.

“Peace” also signifies the relationship between God and us. To be at peace with God is to enjoy a relationship of reconciliation with him. The New Testament also speaks of peace as the inner condition of serenity. This was the peace of mind Jesus bade them when he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world give do I give to you.” (Jn. 14:27)

Note: This “peace” does not take away the dangers of the world, nor does it remove the obstacles and prevent defeats. It is the peace, which God bestows to us in the midst of all this, the peace that Jesus manifested even as he hung upon a cross, the peace, which leads us through and beyond “the vanity of vanities.”

This farm news was published in the April 19, 2006 issue of Farm World.