The Gatherer speaking from before scientific enquiry became the norm nevertheless respects and uses logic and the powers of a reasoning mind to explore life’s puzzling muddle. Yet, he is a person of faith. He does not deny the existence of God. He just finds the divine’s participation in the muddle of life confusing.
How to enjoy life and stay honest
I have been helped by discovering the work of Gabriel Marcel.
He was a French philosopher who accepted that it is only in the experiences of this life and in particular a person’s own life that meaning and purpose can be found. However, unlike other existentialists of his generation – like Jean Paul Sartre – he did not draw the conclusion that life has no meaning.
He believed that we should have a desire to explore and exalt in life and share this joie de vivre with others. Like the Gatherer he proved attractive to some people. In Marcel’s case, a company of young intellectuals. Many of them would have not shared his Christian faith. He was a believer who was given a hearing despite his faith.
He declared that when it comes to tackling complicated issues; people divide into to two types.
Some see them as problems to be solved; others as mysteries to be explored.
‘Some fields of human enquiry cannot be properly understood, and in actual fact they become distorted, when approached as problems. Rather they must be approached under the rubric of mystery’ (GM)
This is not hiding in the word ‘mystery’. It is an attempt to accept that not all life can be reduced to a problem. It seems to me that this is especially true when we consider God.
The Gatherer does not describe a relationship with God in a particularly intimate way but he is close enough to have discovered that God creates thirst as well as guiding us to the ‘quiet waters’.
The psalmist watches a deer quenching its thirst at a stream. He compares this with a person quenching their thirst in the depths of God. But the deer must return time and time again. The thirst will return. The thirst for what satisfies thirst is created by the source of refreshment.
Thomas Wienendy, a Roman Catholic writer from the States comments
Once we have made the paradigm switch from problem to mystery, we shall see the primary aim of theology is not the solution of problems but the discernment of what the mystery of faith is.
With the Gatherer he is suggesting that since God, who can never be fully comprehended, is at the heart of all theological enquiry then he is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be discerned.
The Gatherer put this succinctly
GOD has set eternity in our heart,
a sense of the past, a desire to know the future.
But never gives the satisfaction
of fully understanding
what He does.
The Godstruggler File
Hubert Richards, my mentor as a young man when I first encountered exploring Ecclesiastes declared that the main theme of the book is this: if there is a God then believers will find him most puzzling.
The Gatherer is one of a number of biblical characters that I would call Godstrugglers or God wrestlers. Jacob would be another, so would Jeremiah and I would also include Zechariah from Luke’s nativity stories and Jesus at certain times in his life.
In each of them there is no lack of faith. They just can’t help being puzzled by where their belief in God takes them.
What I notice in particular about the Gatherer is that although a Jew there is little sense of being part of the chosen people and there is no sense of being in a community of faith.
He is a loner. And yet paradoxically he is not alone. He is surrounded by a great company of witnesses, unseen but present in his struggles who like him walked a solitary path into the mystery which is God.
Does this remind you of anyone?