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Solomon Redner
Written April 28, 2008

 

Background:  In this fictional interview, the guest speaks entirely in quotes from Ecclesiastes, which may be my favorite book of the Bible because of its honest pessimism.  I'm surprised that it's managed to remain in the canon of Christian scripture.  The Speaker is under no delusions; he indulges in no wishful thinking about flying up to live happily ever after with the angels in heaven. 

The translation I've used is the Revised English Bible; I've indicated chapter and verse, while making cuts and slight punctuation changes and rearranging the verses as indicated.

 

Welcome back to IT'S IN THE BIBLE.  I'm Brother Billy.

My next guest has been traveling around the world for many years, speaking to large audiences while portraying the character of a famous and wise king.

This is his book; it's called Ecclesiastes, and IT'S IN THE BIBLE.

I'd like to welcome to the program Mr. Solomon Redner!  Glad to meet you, Mr. Redner.

With pleasure.  Ecclesiastes 2:1

Now, your first name is, of course, is the same as the well-known King Solomon of Israel.

The son of David, king in Jerusalem.  1:1

And doesn't your last name, Redner, also mean something in your native German?

The Speaker.  1:1

Right.  Or the Orator, or the Preacher, as it's sometimes translated.  Now the king you impersonate, King Solomon, was famous for his wisdom.

He turned over many maxims in his mind and sought how best to set them out.  12:9

They say that he wrote 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs, although some of them might have been written by someone else using his name, such as yourself.  I especially like the one about how everything has its time.  How does that go?

For everything its season,
and for every activity under heaven its time:
a time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to uproot;
a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to break down and a time to build up;
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time for mourning and a time for dancing;
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace and a time to abstain from embracing;
a time to seek and a time to lose;
a time to keep and a time to discard;
a time to tear and a time to mend;
a time for silence and a time for speech;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.  3:1-8

Beautiful.

He chose his words to give pleasure, but what he wrote was straight truth.  12:10

The straight truth!  That's what we're all about here at IT'S IN THE BIBLE.  And I'm told that you aren't afraid to speak the truth, Mr. Redner.  Please favor us with some of Solomon's wise thoughts.

I, the Speaker, ruled as king over Israel in Jerusalem; and I applied my mind to study and explore by means of wisdom all that is done under heaven.  1:12-13

A worthy task.

It is a worthless task that God has given to mortals to keep them occupied.  1:13

Worthless?

I have seen everything that has been done here under the sun; it is all futility and a chasing of the wind.  1:14

Surely you aren't saying that our lives are meaningless?

Futility, utter futility, says the Speaker.  Everything is futile.  What does anyone profit from all his labour and toil here under the sun?  1:2-3

Well, what we do can make life better for future generations.

Generations come and generations go.  What has happened will happen again, and what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  1:4,9

We can create new things:  art, or music, or . . . .

All things are wearisome.  No one can describe them all, no eye can see them all, no ear can hear them all.  1:8

Or we can gain new understanding about life.  You yourself have developed much knowledge.

No, it was already in existence, long before our time.  Those who lived in the past are not remembered, and those who follow will not be remembered by those who follow them.  1:10-11

It's true that we often limit our thinking to our own lifespans.  We forget the infinitely long time scales of God's universe.

He has given mankind a sense of past and future, but no comprehension of God's work from beginning to end.  3:11

We must learn to appreciate the wonderful world that God has given us.  You have lived in a palace; you must have seen much beauty.

I saw the tears of the oppressed.  And there was no one to comfort them.  If in some province you witness the oppression of the poor and the denial of right and justice, do not be surprised.  The just person gets what is due to the unjust, and the unjust what is due to the just.  4:1, 5:8, 8:14

I accounted the dead happy, because they were already dead — happier than the living who still have lives to live.  More fortunate than either, I reckoned those yet unborn, who have not witnessed the wicked deeds done here under the sun.  4:2-3

But where is your faith?  Where is your hope?

I turned and gave myself up to despair.  I came to hate life, since everything that was done here under the sun was a trouble to me; for all is futility and a chasing of the wind.  2:20,17

Even intellectual pursuits?

There is no end to the writing of books.  In much wisdom is much vexation.  The more knowledge, the more suffering.  12:12, 1:18

Being wise is better than the alternative, though, isn't it?

I considered wisdom and madness and folly.  I saw that wisdom is more profitable than folly, as light is more profitable than darkness; the wise person has eyes in his head, but the fool walks in the dark.

Yet I realized also that one and the same fate overtakes them both.  “Even this,” I said to myself, “is futile.  The wise person is remembered no longer than the fool, because in the days to come, both will have been forgotten.  Alas, both wise and foolish are doomed to die!”  2:12-16

But, of course, those who believe will have eternal life.

One and the same fate comes to all, just and unjust alike, good and bad.  The dead know nothing.  There is no more reward for them; all memory of them is forgotten.  Never again will they have any part in what is done here under the sun. 9:2,5-6

Even the faithful are not resurrected?  Surely we are better than mere animals.

Human beings and beasts share one and the same fate:  death comes to both alike.  They all draw the same breath.  Man has no advantage over beast, for everything is futility.  All go to the same place; all came from the dust, and to the dust all return.  Who knows whether the spirit of a human being goes upward or whether the spirit of a beast goes downward to the earth?  So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, since that is their lot.  For who will put them in a position to see what will happen afterwards?  3:19-22

Let me remind our audience that the views expressed in the Bible are not necessarily the views of IT'S IN THE BIBLE.  Do you mean that this life is the only one we will have?

I know that there is nothing good for anyone except to be happy and live the best life he can while he is alive.  3:12

In other words, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die"?

Indeed.  That everyone should eat and drink and enjoy himself, in return for all his labours, is a gift of God.  3:13

Hmm.  Let's move on to other issues, such as our capitalist economic system.

Where is the profit?  2:15

Exactly.

No one who loves money can ever have enough, and no one who loves wealth enjoys any return from it.  This too is futility.  When riches increase, so does the number of parasites living off them.  The rich man who has too much cannot sleep.  5:10-12

But advancement and success are good.  Don't you agree that achievement results from the competition to attain wealth?

It springs from rivalry between one person and another.  4:4

But under our system, even a poor man has a chance to improve his condition.

Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will listen no longer to advice!  One who has been in prison may well rise to be king.  But I have studied all life here under the sun, and I saw his place taken by yet another young man.  He in turn will give no joy to those who come after him.  This too is futility and a chasing of the wind.  4:13-16

What about inheriting wealth?

Though someone toils with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, he must leave it all to one who has spent no labour on it.  This too is futility and a great wrong.  2:21

What else can you do with your assets?  Do you have any advice about diversified investments?

Divide your merchandise among seven or perhaps eight ventures, since you do not know what disasters are in store for the world.  11:2

Ah, something on which we can agree.  Of course, we all trust that God's love will keep disasters from happening to us.

How about this question:  Does the punishment of criminals act as a deterrent against future crime?

It is because sentence upon a wicked act is not promptly carried out that evildoers are emboldened to act.  8:11

Amen, sir.  Well, you've certainly given us some things to think about, but we're almost out of time.

We've been talking with Solomon Redner this week on IT'S IN THE BIBLE.  I'm Brother Billy.

Any final words of wisdom, Mr. Redner?

Delight in your youth, young man.  Make the most of your early days.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,

before the bad times come and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no pleasure in them,"

before the sun and the light of day give place to darkness,

before the moon and the stars grow dim, and the clouds return with the rain.

Remember him in the day when the guardians of the house become unsteady, and the strong men stoop,

when the women grinding the meal cease work because they are few, and those who look through the windows can see no longer,

when the street doors are shut, when the sound of the mill fades,

when the chirping of the sparrow grows faint and the songbirds fall silent;

when people are afraid of a steep place and the street is full of terrors.

Remember your Creator before the dust returns to the earth as it began.

Utter futility, says the Speaker.  Everything is futile.  11:9,12:1-8   

 

TBT

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