If you have read this series I hope you will feel that I am a fan of Ecclesiastes. I discovered the book when I was training to be a minister. It was a companion through the first of a number of faith-crises. I am glad it is in the Bible. I am drawn by its pragmatic wisdom and hard-won faith in God.
But it leaves me with a longing and an ache. I follow where the Gatherer takes me but then have to say: this is all well and good. But I’m left wondering is there anymore to say?
We cannot expect the Gatherer to say anymore than he can. He says a lot. As a teacher in the biblical wisdom tradition one of his concerns is to help a believer in God develop an understanding which can cope with incompleteness.
In his excellent book, Useless Beauty, Robert Johnston compares the experience of the Gatherer with the characters of various films. He observes various coping strategies that the Gatherer offers a believer:
Accept that life is messy and yet a divine gift.
We cannot know what we are to do for life lacks any discernible moral order.
Given life’s incoherence, all attempts to master life by our own efforts
are simply futile.
It is best to accept life’s small joys as they are offered; enjoy the transitory
whilst looking more deeply at life.
Death is our common fate, learn that fast.
Trust God, invest in that early.
These may be too downbeat for some. I find them tantalisingly therapeutic. They invite me to explore the everyday attitudes that shape my own experience of incompleteness. They insist that faith and mortality join hands.
So that is all that there is to say, is it?
No and yes. When it comes down to it, my friend the Gatherer does not live in my era. Whatever my many secular contemporaries may think I believe in the God of Resurrection who will bring in a new earth and a new heaven and so on. I don’t apologise for the ‘so on’. I am not dismissing all that Christians may believe about life beyond death. This is not about detail.
It is about an encounter between my faith in that God and the faith of the Gatherer in his God.
I cannot leave my friend. He speaks to my soul and provides me with a pathway to my own encounter with my God.
For he believes that all that is good in us and all that we do to enable human life to flourish is not lost but is embraced by God.
He could only live in his times. He could not take part in the enquiries set off by the arrival of the Christ. But indirectly he does make a contribution to those enquiries. In Christ he will be reconciled to God.
I have to the conclusion that Resurrection means Reconciliation and there will be a time when there will be a great Reconciliation – a time of accounting – when God will give an account of what he was up to and how we fitted into all of that and why every season has its time and the Gatherer will know his place in the universal work of God.