But against all illusion and fantasy and empty talk
There's always this rock foundation: Fear God!
-Ecclesiastes 5:7 (The Message)
The writer of Ecclesiastes, traditionally identified as Solomon, but within the text as "Qoheleth" or "the Teacher", has examined all of life. He has looked carefully into what makes for happiness and meaning. His verdict: all is vanity, all is inane, all is but a chasing after the wind. The tone is not exactly optimistic. But a common thread runs throughout the text: fear God, keep the commandments, pursue wisdom rather than foolishness.
Many read the Bible for inspiration, for encouragement, for uplift. Ecclesiastes does not quite fill the bill. But we should be thankful that the Bible contains this book, full of grit and realism and resonance with the hardships that come with life. Who of us has not looked at the way of the world, and wondered if it is not all an empty pursuit, filled with toil and hurt and pitfalls? Who of us has not looked at the way of the world, and wondered, "what does it all mean?"
Wisdom, according to the Ecclesiastes, is this: keep asking the questions, but reverence God. Raise the mysteries; embrace the divine mystery. In doing so, we become humble in light of our own humanity, we recognize that the final answers do not rest with us, we embrace the fact that the life of the faithful is not all uplift and ease. Because of this, we serve our neighbor as a sojourner on this broken earth; we empathize with the stranger. And we offer this: there is a God in whose hands we rest.
"Fear God!", the same God with whom Jacob wrestled.
Faith is a tussle. Enter the fray.
God of all mysteries, may I return to the foundation of the life of faith: fear and reverence of you. Help me to raise the questions, but to explore them humbly, and in the process come to know you more deeply, more fully, to stand confident in you. Amen.