Tag Archives: Vanity

Empty Words


 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:2
Hiding behind our English ‘vanity’ is the Hebrew ‘hevel
It is the name of the victim of Cain’s murderous rage
Abel (Hevel), the faithful one whose blood the earth drinks
Protesting to the heavens over the violation of its soil
By this fratricide to appease Cain’s wounded pride

Hevel is an evanescent word for vapor or mist or emptiness
It is the emptiness of a politician’s hopes and prayers
As more children are sacrificed on the gunmetal altar
It is there in the men who grasp after power
While they steal the innocence away from children
It is there as grocery stores become slaughterhouses
And houses of prayer become places of sacrifice
As ‘never again’ becomes ‘yet again’
As hope dies to despair in the vapid vociferousness.

How many Abels must die for us to turn from the emptiness
Before we look for something more substantial than smoke?
How many tears must fall upon the ground to wash away the blood?
How many broken lives and broken bodies before more is demanded
Than empty vanity? Words that vanish into thin air like smoke.
Words that taste like an ashtray as their cancerous residue remains.

I would rather scream into the abyss than speak the empty words
To grieving parents and broken communities in a shattered world.
Yet, these vain words are spread like fertilizer over the tomb stones
That populate the fields where the innocents are planted.
Spoken by men who are satisfied with a society
That sacrifices its children so that nothing has to change.
Where vanities are laid upon vapid vanities and all remains emptiness.


Ecclesiastes 9 Staring into the Abyss and Finding Peace

La Porte dr l'Enfer a ete dressee dans les jardins du musee Rodin (The Thinker at the Gates of the Inferno and the Museum in Rodin)

La Porte dr l’Enfer a ete dressee dans les jardins du musee Rodin (The Thinker at the Gates of the Inferno and the Museum in Rodin)

Ecclesiastes 9

1 All this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God; whether it is love or hate one does not know. Everything that confronts them 2 is vanity, since the same fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to those who sacrifice and those who do not sacrifice. As are the good, so are the sinners; those who swear are like those who shun an oath. 3 This is an evil in all that happens under the sun, that the same fate comes to everyone. Moreover, the hearts of all are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But whoever is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun.
 7 Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. 8 Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
 11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.
 13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few people in it. A great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than might; yet the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heeded.”
 17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouting of a ruler among fools.
 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one bungler destroys much good.

There are those both inside and outside the Christian community who see faith as a house of cards that if one thing is removed then the whole house crumbles. I see this from many of my friends who are agnostic or atheist who read the bible in a way that is as fundamentalist as the most fundamentalist Christian in order to discredit it and I see it in people who I are so afraid of the modern world challenging their faith that they are fearful of science or culture. Often the latter never move beyond trying to defend the timeline of creation in Genesis 1 (and may miss even the beauty of the way that passage poetically talks about the creation) and the former would never realize that within the scriptures there is one who asks their questions and takes them deeper. Ecclesiastes takes us to the edge of the abyss of meaninglessness, willing to rest his observations in the experience of the vanity of the present moment and his own experience. Ecclesiastes, knowing that in this present life being wise, righteous, faithful, religious or good do not guarantee one a blessed life nor does being foolish, wicked, unfaithful, irreligious or evil do not guarantee that one will be cursed, is willing wonder are the righteous loved or hated by God. There is no way to ensure one’s security in this life or beyond this life in Ecclesiastes view. Ecclesiastes stands at the edge of the abyss, where death is the only certainty and finds peace. It may take us a little longer standing in this place before we can find peace, but it can be found. It is a wisdom that may take us a bit of a journey to get to because it undercuts many of the narratives we are used to living with, but once we do we can find joy even in the midst of the often inscrutable nature of God or the perversity of life.

One of the narratives that Ecclesiastes undercuts is an orientation towards the future that is unable to see the gifts of the present. In its most extreme form it is a focus on the afterlife, awaiting joy in heaven, at the expense of enjoying the gifts of this day. Sometimes the apostle Paul is used to support this argument when he says to the Corinthians, discussing the resurrection, that, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15: 19) yet Paul would learn to “be content with whatever I have.” (see Philippians 4: 11). While there has been a predominance in much Christian preaching on heaven (and also hell) over the generations much of the Bible is concerned with how to enjoy the present life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from his cell in Tegel Prison, wrote:

I believe we are so to love God in our life and in the good things God gives us and to lay hold of such trust in God that, when the time comes and is here—but truly only then!—we also go to God with love, trust, and joy. But—to say it clearly—that a person in the arms of his wife should long for the hereafter is, to put it mildly, tasteless and in any case is not God’s will. One should find and love God in what God directly gives us; if it pleases God to allow us to enjoy an overwhelming earthly happiness, then one shouldn’t be more pious than God than God and allow this happiness to be gnawed away through arrogant thoughts and challenges and wild religious fantasy that is never satisfied with what God gives. (Bonhoeffer, 2010, p. 228)

Wisdom is not deferring life until the next life or living with a contempt for the world. Wisdom that is really willing to come to the edge of the abyss and ask difficult questions of one’s experience if it isn’t going to fall into cynicism one will learn to embrace the good in the present in the midst of its impermanence.

A second narrative that Ecclesiastes refuses to let stand is the myth of living for one’s legacy. If one’s legacy is as transient as one’s life then a focus on one’s curricula vitae to the exclusion of one’s life with a partner one loves the enjoyment of food and drink and labor is truly vanity. There is no enjoyment of life and accomplishment beyond the boundary of death. The memory of the person we are and the life we lived is rarely preserved beyond a couple generations and even the wise among us are forgotten.

Another narrative that is potent in the American context is the narrative of security. Security may be the great American idol and we invest a lot of our resources into attempting to guarantee ourselves against financial, medical, or any other disaster. Yet, even with our security complex we often suffer from foreboding joy, a sense that even in moments of joy we are unwilling to trust them because they may be temporary. Yet, Ecclesiastes is willing to be honest about the elements of our lives that we cannot control and that when disaster strikes it pulls us out of what we know like fish in a net or a bird in a snare. Worrying about the possibility of disaster doesn’t prepare us for disaster but it can steal the joy out of the moments of joy in our life that we are gifted to enjoy.

Ecclesiastes keeps circling back to the gift of enjoyment of the things that are a part of our life now. Eating and drinking, dressing in festive garments (as white garments were in an ancient culture where people rarely washed their clothes and water was a precious resource), enjoying one’s relationships and enjoying one’s labor. They are not permanent, you cannot guarantee them, and yet they are precious and enjoying them is a gift from God. Better to be the dog, a scavenger and a dishonorable animal in Jewish thought, who is alive than the proud lion who is dead. Whatever one’s lot the best one can do is to find enjoyment in it. One can worry that life is not fair or that it is too short or one can embrace what one has. One may be a king or a poor but wise person whose wisdom is not heard and yet be quickly forgotten in the turning of the seasons.

Yet, even wisdom is often overcome by shouting and foolishness. It seems that perhaps the life of wisdom is at least partially tragic. The story told in verse eleven of the poor man who delivered (or as C.L Seow translates it might have delivered had anyone listened to the poor man whose wisdom was despised) (Pauw, 2015, p. 196)but is quickly forgotten seems to lead to the final brief proverbs about the struggle for wisdom in Ecclesiastes and our own time. People may overlook wisdom for the shouting of the ruler among fools or in favor of the weapons of war and one bungling individual can undo much of the wisdom of generations. Wisdom may continually struggle and often be overcome in the public arena by the louder or more powerful voice but ultimately the wise and the foolish voices are all forgotten by a new generation and their legacies forgotten. Yet, the wise person can learn to enjoy the gifts and the impact they can make in their brief span of life.



When did my hair get so thin
That it no longer protects my scalp skin
Yet it never lays flat
After wearing a hat
Oh how wonderfully vain I have been

Several days behind now in the Intro to Poetry prompts, but this was a fun one. To take an imperfection as the prompt and then to attempt to put it into a limerick. And while I am still glad to have as much hair as I do at almost 44 (especially with the men on both side losing much more) there isn’t as much as there once was.


Ecclesiastes 2- The Quest for Meaning

Edward Poynter, The Visit of the Queen of Shebe to King Solomon (1890)

Edward Poynter, The Visit of the Queen of Shebe to King Solomon (1890)

Ecclesiastes 2: 1-11 The Quest for Meaning Begins

1 I said to myself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But again, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine– my mind still guiding me with wisdom– and how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house; I also had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines.

 9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. 10 Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Qohelet, a common way of referring to the author of Ecclesiastes, begins his quest for meaning in the meaninglessness and begins to apply his wisdom to the things that might bring pleasure and joy. While the author of Genesis 1 can from God’s perspective call everything ‘indeed, very good’ for the teacher in Ecclesiastes everything is vanity and empty. For other wisdom writers, wisdom itself is something that comes from a parent, a scribe or teacher, and ultimately can be personified (as in Proverbs 8) as a woman who is to be sought. Wisdom for many seekers in the Hebrew Scriptures was something that was primarily revealed but in Ecclesiastes, like many post-moderns, the only foundation for wisdom is their own experience. The teacher is in the privileged space to be able to experience and examine the fullness of their life and experience and draw conclusions based upon that experience. Although Qohelet continues to expand those conclusions to a universal perspective, in many respects not unlike Sigmund Freud developing many of his psychoanalytical theories based on his limited clinical experience at the time, his insights continue to provide a fertile ground for reflection.

Ecclesiastes grand experiment in experiential wisdom attempts to enter the pleasure of life fully: laughter, wine, great works, places for enjoyment, people to serve him, power, wealth and sex. All of these individual things, although the eyes and the appetite desired all these things, they ultimately don’t satisfy the author for long. When wisdom gets turned to the goal of acquisition it quickly meets with the reality of insatiability. Although Qohelet can accumulate more property, wealth, power, stature, as well as physical objects of desire than anyone before him (and here he seems to be modeling his story on Solomon who would turn his wisdom towards accumulation to his eventual peril) he doesn’t find more pleasure, joy or contentment than others. In some respects, many celebrities and rock-stars have taken on Ecclesiastes quest for meaning to the point of even putting their lives in jeopardy in their pleasure seeking. For example, Nicki Sixx from the bands Motley Crue and Sixx A.M. can relate in an interview, “What are you going to write songs about now? You’ve won everything that you can win. You’ve proven everybody wrong. You guys have money beyond any money you could ever spend in your life. You’re all driving Ferraris and seeing girls in bikinis and living in mansions” at a time where Sixx was dealing with a heroin (and alcohol and multiple other drug) addiction that nearly cost him his life. The quest for meaning in pleasure has been tried many times over and many have found that it is indeed meaningless at some point, or that it fails at some point to quench the insatiability of the seeker’s appetite. There are never enough accolades, never enough wealth, never enough cars or relationships or a big enough house or thrill.

Yet, in the midst of all of the things that ultimately fail to satisfy, Qohelet ultimately finds something. In the toil, which the seeker normally refers to as a negative thing, he finds pleasure. In the moments, in the present time the seeker finds the thing that they are seeking. It is transient and evanescent moments and as Ecclesiastes states they may indeed be ‘hebel’ or ‘vanity.’ It is in the quest or the work itself that the joy was found, in the moments and not in the acquisition and end.

Ecclesiastes 2: 12-26 The Unfairness of Death

 12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly; for what can the one do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.

                14 The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness.

Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them.15 Then I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?” And I said to myself that this also is vanity. 16 For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools? 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

 18 I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19 — and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23 For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

 24 There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.

The teacher found pleasure, even if only in transitory moments, in the present, in the toil. Yet, as the Teacher reaches into the future his joy dissipates and he continues to dwell on the meaningless of life in its transitory nature. Mortality comes as the great aggravator of the insatiability of the seeker. He seeks the end of his wisdom and toil, end in the sense of the goal or meaning. The more he projects his quest into an unknown future the more he moves from the pleasure of the moment to the hatred of a transitory life with an uncertain future and legacy. Mortality is the great equalizer in all its unfairness. Both the wise and the foolish, even though wisdom excels folly, all die and are forgotten. In the world of Qohelet’s desire there would be some reward for the wise in their life and legacy and yet all of these may be handed over to those who may not appreciate their labor.

For me one of the gifts of Ecclesiastes is its challenge to the ways I, and I am sure many others, have lived my life for the future. I have projected my happiness into some future time as I toiled towards that next degree, next promotion, a time when I am debt free, or have earned a certain amount of wealth, comfort, security or rewards. Yet, the reality of these are that the completion of these goals never satisfies the insatiable nature within me. I frequently have missed moments of joy in the present by being focused on the future. In a work oriented culture, where we pride ourselves on how busy we are and how hard we work Ecclesiastes encourages us to slow down, to notice the moments of pleasure. To find enjoyment in the work itself, not merely in the end. The toil, or work itself may be the end. The quest may be the apex of enjoyment. And ultimately for Qohelet it is God who enables a person to enjoy and perceive the gifts of the day. As Psalm 118 can state, “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118: 24)

Perhaps in the quest of Ecclesiastes we can learn the peril of a life that is completely oriented on the future. Ultimately death places its verdict on all of us and if we are living our lives in search of some immortal legacy then we are likely to be disappointed. Lives can be too hard or too short, they can be a burden and a toil. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts the Teacher can give us is to learn to pay attention to the joys of bodily life: a good meal with friends, a vacation, the process of learning and growing, the development of a relationship and countless other moments with the potential for joy and happiness. By orienting his life to the future, Qohelet finds only that life is vanity and great evil. Nicki Sixx, mentioned above in his own quest for pleasure which almost cost him his life, could write later in a song that would come out of his Heroin Diaries at the end of his quest for pleasure that ‘Life is Beautiful’ but it took being at the point of death for Sixx, as well as the death of several of his friends, for him to realize the beauty in it.


Ecclesiastes 1- Chasing After the Wind

Ecclesiastes 1: 1-11: All the Vanity and Toil of Life

1 The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north;
   round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;
   to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.
8 All things are wearisome; more than one can express;
   the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done;
   there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?
    It has already been, in the ages before us.
11 The people of long ago are not remembered,
    nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.

Ecclesiastes is probably one of the latest books written in the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament as many Christians known the first portion of their scriptures, and was also one of the books that many ancient and modern people have wondered how it fits in the Bible. Ecclesiastes wanders boldly into the absurdity and senselessness of the world of the Teacher, Qohelet (the word that is translated the Teacher or in other translations the preacher and how I will refer to the author throughout these reflections). It is not only in our time where disillusionment can creep in and mocks any sentimental religiosity or easy answers. Perhaps the entirety of this short work is vanity, perhaps it is wisdom or foolishness, for many it will be unsatisfying and for others it will be a voice singing in the choir of those willing to peer honestly into the unresolved questions of a world that often seems devoid of any cosmic wisdom or justice.

Here in this initial section we encounter three of Qohelet’s favorite words: “All,” “Vanity,” and “Toil.” Since these words are so important to the Teacher it is probably worth spending a moment with them at the beginning. As a philosopher looking at the universal perspective of the human experience “All” (Hebrew kōl) becomes one of the tools to reflect on the universality of the experience of toil, death, disappointment and meaninglessness. Qohelet’s perspective in this universal search is not primarily religious but experiential and by taking his or her reflection on a variety of topics and universalizing them to the shared human experience. Perhaps in a postmodern age we may be skeptical of a universalizing perspective even if it is grounded in the universality of “vanity.” “Vanity” (Hebrew hebel) initially appears in the Bible in Genesis as the name of Cain’s younger brother ‘Abel.’ Just as Abel’s life is short and appears to be meaningless so the word hebel can mean ‘vapor, mist, or emptiness.’ It is an evanescent word that refuses to be grasped hold of and the traditional translation of ‘vanity’ reflects the grasping not only at the meaning of the word but also grasping at meaning in the meaninglessness. ‘Toil’ (Hebrew āmāl) has nothing to do with goal oriented work and more to do with pain and struggle. As W. Sibley Towner, who I am indebted to for the above discussion of the meaning of words, can connect:

Like the writer of the story of Genesis 3, he places human beings in a world from which both the presence and the friendship of God are withdrawn and people are left to fend for themselves on an accursed ground in lives of toil that only end in death. (NIB V: 280)

As we enter into the vanity of vanities, the senselessness in the unending rhythms of the world that surrounds the mortal who will inevitably cease to be, we enter into the insatiability of not only the cosmos but apparently the human appetite as well. The repeating patterns of streams that flow to the sea, winds that blow from the south, sunrise and sunset, and the passing of the generations bring on the steady reinvention of that which has come before. Perhaps in the midst of the mundane the eye and ear search for something new and novel, but all that fills them is the things that have come before. Perhaps there is some irony in reflecting upon a person of long ago whose personage is not remembered and yet their words endure and come to us calling us into their questions. Willing to enter into the search for answers in the toil and in the recurring patterns of life, the Teacher invites us to search with him or her for what may satisfy our insatiability.

Miroslav Volf can identify from Ecclesiastes the central themes of insatiability and mortality. In Ecclesiastes there is no transcendent goal, no heaven to escape to and so Qohelt enters into a very earthly discussion of what life is about. As Volf can say, “We are finite, but our desires are infinite. Our insatiability gives the ever-flowing river of our work and play not just an insuppressible dynamism but also an aura of futility.” (Volf, 2015, p. 51) Just as literature can reflect the way repetition, boredom and meaninglessness can squeeze the joy out of modern life, Ecclesiastes can point back to the same experience among those of our ancestors who were willing to engage their experience without resorting to pious sentimentality. As Herman Melville can state in Moby Dick:

That mortal man who hath more joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true or underdeveloped. With books, the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. “ALL is vanity.” ALL. This willful world has not got hold of un-christian Solomon’s wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing grave-yards, and would rather talk of operas then hell…not that man is fitted to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon. (NIB V: 291)

If one is willing to enter into the insatiability and mortality and wonder what the toil means, to be at the place where one can honestly engage the brokenness and pain of the human experience then perhaps one can find joy. In foolishness or wisdom the joy may come anyways, but the mind of Qohelet the philosopher and seeker refuses to pull away from his difficult quest for which there are no easy answers. Perhaps in a world where many in the United States have access to more options and luxuries than at any previous point in history and we still are not satisfied we can learn from Ellen Davis’ insight into the one of the issues Ecclesiastes highlights: “the perpetual desire for more does not derive from the enjoyment of what we already have….the fact of the matter is that we are often bored by the good things of this world.” (Davis, 2000, p. 172)


Ecclesiastes 1: 12-18: The Vexation of Wisdom

                12 I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem,13 applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.14 I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.16 I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”17 And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.
 18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.

The books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs present two very different approaches to wisdom. The practical wisdom of Proverbs is to be a guide for one’s thoughts and actions and protects one from being entangled in the ways of evil. For Proverbs, “for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” (Proverbs 2: 10) Yet, for Qohelet, the wisdom becomes a vexation and the increase of knowledge has brought the seeker sorrow and not happiness. Qohelet seeks to take the universal perspective and to know all of the human experience in its toil and trouble, its wisdom and its folly, its crookedness and brokenness. The Teacher takes on the mantle of Solomon (most scholars would say Ecclesiastes due to its language is written many hundreds of years after the time of Solomon) and applies this wisdom and knowledge that they have acquired to know everything. Their thirst for knowledge was insatiable and the more they grasped the more it escaped like the wind they felt they were chasing. Yet, Qohelet for all his universal perspective cannot claim to know the mind of God. The questions that are raised about God are unanswered and probably unanswerable. Perhaps the folly of this quest for wisdom and knowledge rests in the reality that one never masters “all” for the streams of knowledge flow into larger and larger bodies and perhaps at last to the unreachable and uncontainable sea. Yet, it would be too easy to perhaps makes this about harnessing the uncatchable winds in a sail to blow us down to the sea without being honest about the vexation, struggle and toil that often comes in the journey. Perhaps Qohelet is able to see well before the disillusionment of humanity with modernity’s quest for absolute answers that often the increase of knowledge may indeed bring about sorrow and how, for example, sciences that can be used to save lives often become utilized to wage war. Qohelet’s painful wisdom may not be something that is comfortable to most people, but for those who feel intensely in their lives a sense of brokenness or alienation they may find comfort in hearing within their scripture their own toil and questions and doubts. The vexation of wisdom and the sorrow of knowledge may not be alleviated by hearing Qohelet’s impious words but perhaps in there is empathy found in the presence of a fellow questioner whose questions go unanswered.