Bishop Robert Barren
The Book of Qoheleth, called Ecclesiastes in most editions of the Bible, is one of the strangest and most intriguing books in the Scriptures. Qoheleth, sometimes identified as King Solomon himself, is an old man at the end of his life, musing, as older people often do, on the emptiness and futility of things. It is dear from the context of the book that Qoheleth is someone who has had it all and seen it all: wealth, power, sensual pleasure, and the refined delights of the mind. And his verdict is: ‘Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” In fact, as he lays out his bleak vision, one might be forgiven for thinking this man is more of a despairing existentialist than Jean-Paul Sartre.
But the more we meditate upon Qoheleth’s words, the cearer his message becomes. He is not trying to convince us that life has no meaning; rather, he is urging us to let go of all of the attachments to this world that prevent us from surrendering ourselves utterly to God. Pleasure, knowledge, power, and riches are all good things, but they are not God. When we pretend that they are the ultimate values, they in fact turn into dust, or they burst like little bubbles. My friends who are skilled in the Hebrew language tell me that the term which lies behind the familiar translation “vanity” suggests bubbles or hot air.
What a finally liberating vision: to look at all of the wonders of this world and see them as so many evanescent bubbles. It’s a liberating vision because it frees us to place our hope and trust in God alone.