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The author of Ecclesiastes, Qohelet, wrestles with the purpose of our short-lived lives because, whatever investments humans may make, it does not satisfy the transience of life. Annie Dillard chapter, “Fecundity” in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, grapples with her perceptions on life and death. Furthermore, she is confused as to why she even cares about death in the first place. Both Qohelet and Dillard acknowledge that every life ends in death yet, the manner in how they wrestle with human kind’s inevitable end leads to two different conclusions: one with God and one without. Thus, Qohelet finds hope, despite the brevity of life, while Dillard refuses to see that there can be any such thing. Dillard’s wrestling with death leads her to conclude that death is not the “curse” but, that our emotions are, while Qohelet also struggles with death, he comes to a different conclusion.
For Qohelet, it is not the emotions that are the “curse”, but rather it is sin and death. Qohelet does express an excess of emotions, as he too struggles with the elusiveness of life, illustrating his sentiments with the word hevel. Hevel’s meaning as Dr. Elaine Phillips writes, “is ‘vapor’ or ‘breath’… Every endeavor is like a breath; it is transitory – here and gone. ” Thereby, Qohelet does not discount emotions regarding the transience of life but much of what Qohelet is saying in Ecclesiastes is contemplating the effects of the Fall in Genesis 3, referencing Genesis 3:19, “…you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust and you will return to dust. ” Qohelet words are similar in Ecclesiastes 3:20. Qohelet understands that death is the result of disobedience, but he still battles to comprehend the transience of life.
For Dillard, humans are the “freaks. ” Humans are “freaks” because we value the life of people, unlike the rest of nature, as nature does not seem to care if we live or die. Therefore, there must be something wrong with us as she places Nature as the criteria that measures the value of human life. She writes, “…we are moral creatures, then, in an amoral world. ” Hence, completely ruling out any other source that could account for her concerns about death. Although, the transience of life disturbs Qohelet, he, unlike Dillard, is driven to compare human existence to the divine. In so doing, he finds the source of joy and hope in life given by God. Dillard wallows in despair when faced with death while Qohelet, knows that despite despair there is hope and joy given by God. Dillard’s deduction that humans are freaks, as nature does not care about the human existence it holds, leaves her reader with the dread that the world possess no hope. To Dillard, this is just the way the world works’ and humans must learn to cope with it. Qohelet, by contrast, understands that there is hope given to mankind given by God, in spite of facing the hevel of life, the end that is death, and the injustice that occurs in this world.
Qohelet is frustrated about the transience of life as anything that man pursues is fleeting. Our toil and hard work are only temporary just like the extent of our lives; here and then gone again. We shall not be remembered. Although Qohelet knows that our lives are but a puff of air, he states that despite this end, God gives enjoyment in life. Qohelet writes, “Here is what I have seen to be good: it is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun. . . This is a gift of God, for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart”.
Hence, despite the transience of life, God gifts man with joy and gives satisfaction in his work. This is the hope that Qohelet offers in Ecclesiastes. Dillard asks us to search outside of God for a satisfactory answer to death but there is no hope to be found there. Qohelet does address the transience of life, but notices that God is the source of all joy and hope therefore, not all is lost. Therefore, mankind cannot be truly satisfied without God.
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