Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 2, 2013

JOHN CANNON: Vowing to be sure life is not ‘meaningless’

John Cannon
Associated Press

ASHLAND — As I write this, the New Year has yet to arrive and we still are not sure whether our inept leaders in Washington, D.C., will choose to raise our taxes by driving us over the “fiscal cliff’ and virtually assure a new recession, or whether at the last minute wisdom and common sense will prevail and a compromise will be reached. But even if the plunge over the fiscal cliff was avoided, there is little reason for confidence in our national government.

 I could not help but thinking about life in the United States today as I read a devotional written for Dec. 30. It chose as its text the most familiar passage from Ecclesiastes 3.

The passage is well known not because people spend a lot of time reading Ecclesiastes, but because of the song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” first made famous by the Byrds nearly 50 year ago. The lyrics of that song come from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, and for the most part, those are the only verses from Ecclesiastes that most people know. That’s too bad because I think this ancient book has a powerful message for today.

Although the author of the book is identified only as the Teacher, Solomon is believed to be the author, and he wrote it when he was old and more than just a little bit sour about the world he saw.

Because he had asked God for wisdom and God had granted that request, Solomon often is called the wisest mortal who ever lived, but being wise did not prevent Solomon from doing stupid things. I mean this guy had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Why someone with 700 wives (or even one, for that matter) would need any concubines is beyond me, but Solomon did not marry for love. He married for political reasons. He ignored God’s commands and married outside the faith to strengthen his kingdom.

I consider Ecclesiastes the most cynical book in the Bible. Solomon doesn’t see much that is good in the world.

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure,” the Teacher writes in the second chapter of Ecclesiastes, but adds, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

Remember this was written by a man who had everything the world claims will make us happy, but instead of being happy, he seemed, well, miserable and almost bitter.

Other quotes from this cynical book:

‰“I declared that the dead who have already died, are happier than the living who are still alive ..:” (Ecclesiastes 4:2)

‰“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 5: 10).  

 Isn’t it amazing that thousands of years after those words were written, the rich are still trying to get richer and we still are being taught that wealth brings happiness?

‰“There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. .. Nothing is better for man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.” (Ecclesiastes 8: 14-15).

Ever wonder where the phrase “eat, drink and be merry” comes from? Well, now you know, but before you adopt it as your life’s theme I suggest you read the entire book. And whoever said life was fair?

‰ “Meaningless! Meaningless” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!” Ecclesiastes 12: 8.

Can you get more cynical than that? Is everything we do and say meaningless? I certainly hope not.

But in all his bitterness, the Teacher ends the book on a positive note: “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments.” (Ecclesiastes 12: 14)

The late  W. David Brown was my journalism teacher at Morehead State University and has influenced me more professionally than any other person. As I was about to begin my first job as a reporter, he gave me some wise advice: “Try not to become cynical. We have far too many journalists who become so cynical that they think nothing good can happen in this world.”

Taking that advice, I have always tried to remain positive and try to see the best in people, but I confess that in my old age, it is becoming more and more difficult not to be a cynic. Our government in Washington seems completely dysfunctional, and Frankfort is not much better. We have too many elected leaders pushing their own agenda and not enough working for the common good. I see much that is wrong in America, beginning with the breakdown of the family.

But instead of being cynical and throwing up my hands in disgust, I choose to follow the advice of Micah in another Old Testament book. “What does the Lord require of you?” Micah asks in 6: 8. “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

That is my goal for 2013, and I conclude this rather cynical column by bidding you a Happy New Year. I also promise to be a whole lot less preachy than I was in this column.

JOHN CANNON can be reached at jcannon@dailyindpendent,com or at (606) 326-2649.