Embracing The Difficulty of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs
Oh boy. Our daily reading plan is really putting it on us this week. We are moving from the books of Psalms and Proverbs into the books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.
And that is going to be a major shift for us because these two books are very different from Psalms and Proverbs. They are very different from the other 62 books of the Bible as well. There really is nothing in the rest of Scripture that is exactly like either Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.
Not an Easy Read
There is also nothing in the rest of Scripture that is as difficult as Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. Neither of these books is an easy read. Ecclesiastes is difficult in its approach. It is an examination of life itself, which is obviously something of great value. But it takes a negative, pessimistic tone. The signature statement of the book is “Everything is meaningless”, which is not likely to be the most optimistic idea you will hear today, and it also says things like “sorrow is better than laughter” and “the day of death better than the day of birth.” Many find these statements questionable if not heretical.
Song of Songs, on the other hand, is difficult in its subject matter. The book is quite simply about sex. I know there are people who say it is about something else, but that is not correct. The book is about romantic love in all its aspects, including the sexual aspect. Many find that to be questionable if not heretical as well.
How to Approach Difficult Topics?
Now one way we can handle difficult books like this is to just eliminate or ban them. In fact, if I understand correctly, that is what the ancient rabbis tried to do with both books. Some rabbis debated whether or not Ecclesiastes should be included in the Old Testament, and other rabbis forbid anyone from reading Song of Songs until they were at least 30 years old.
Another way we can handle difficult books like this, though, and a much better way, is to embrace the difficulty. This is something we have to do in other avenues of life. I had to do this when I was rock climbing in California. Before Aubrey was born, I used to go to a rock climbing gym with a pastor friend three times a week. Some of the routes we climbed at this gym had holds that are called “jug holds”. They were like the handle of a jug. You could get your fingers around them, grip them tight, and feel secure as you made your next move.
Other routes had holds called pinch holds. All you could do with these holds was pinch them between your thumb and other fingers. It did not feel nearly as secure as a jug hold did. In truth, it wasn’t as secure as a jug hold was. There was nothing that felt worse than being thirty feet in the air on a backwards slope and having in front of you but a pinch hold. I questioned whether or not I really wanted to be a rock climber many times when I was in such a situation. But then I told myself, “There is something good at the top of this climb. If you want to get there, you have to do this hold. So stop whining and do it!”
Something Good Awaits!
This is exactly where we are here. There is something good in both Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. There is something from God in both these books that will bless our lives. But we’re going to have to do a difficult hold to get those things; we’re going to have to do something difficult if we want to get these blessings. We’re going to have to wrestle with a type of literature that is unfamiliar to us.
That’s what Ecclesiastes is. It really isn’t as negative or pessimistic as it seems, but it is using negativity and pessimism to make a point. We have to understand that this dynamic is occurring and thus consider the things we find there a lot more carefully and thoroughly than we usually do. We’re going to have to wrestle with ideas that are challenging to us.
That’s what Song of Songs is. It is not telling us that all sex of any kind is good; in fact, it tells us just the opposite, repeatedly warning us not to arouse or awake love inappropriately. But it does tell us that marital sex is good, and if you have been raised to feel otherwise, this may be something that will stretch you a bit.
So there is going to be difficulty here. But there is also going to be blessing here. My encouragement today is for you to embrace that difficulty with me this week and thus find that blessing.