Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
“But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” (Ecclesiastes 12.12 NASB1995)
As Solomon reaches the end of his treatise as “The Preacher,” he expresses his feelings, using his life as an example. During his life, as today, people wrote on many topics. If there is a difference between our two eras, it must be that more people today have access to education and can read all of the books that people write. Otherwise, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1.9). Yet, with education comes self-reflection. And self-reflection often prompts men to take pen to page and write in poetry and prose. Even so, that self-reflection brings melancholy, as with men like Edgar Allen Poe.
And this is where we find Solomon. But even though cynical at this point, Solomon still sounds as if he could have found a home among the other literary figures of the Romantic era, like Alfred Lord Tennyson or Henry David Thoreau. When it is fashionable for men to be scholarly, one notes more men willing to put thoughts and feelings into words. Whatever the rationale, whether to be praised, make money or achieve catharsis, it spawns one of the hallmarks of culture: literature.
Generally speaking, literature and its study are positive. From those writers in the past, concepts have been communicated through time, influencing future generations. Before the Romantic era, the West went through the Age of Enlightenment. Academics and thinkers drew ideas from the classical thought of ancient Greece. Some thinkers in this epoch penned literature the American Founding Fathers read and sparked a revolution. Others, like Sir Isaac Newton, were inspired to unlock the secrets of the cosmos.
But then there is another class of literature written by men with a deleterious effect on the reader. No, I am not just talking of the smut peddler, though that is terrible. Instead, I am referring to those like Karl Marx or Adolph Hitler, who took to pen to write dangerous, subversive ideas that upset the course of civilization. Although World War 2 effectively destroyed Hitler’s brand of fascism, Marxism still flourishes in the ivy-covered walls of U.S. colleges and universities. And we have not even mentioned those like Friedrich Nietzsche, who was desirous of taking away his reader’s hope in God.
Even so, the written word remains one of man’s greatest inventions. And it is apropos that the first book produced by a printing press was a copy of God’s Word. That book, the Bible, is itself a compilation of 66 books. And think of the diverse and storied men who wrote those books’ words through the Holy Spirit’s influence: shepherds, kings, tax collectors, tent makers, doctors, et al. So the final product is something we can even enjoy as literature, despite being written for our moral guidance.
In this Information Age, as some have dubbed it, we still have our writers. They may write as I do for a blog, a funny-sounding word that didn’t even exist a half-century ago. It is short for “weblog.” Or they may write for journals, newsletters, and books. But men still write. You may have never guessed that it is a tiresome task, especially when dealing with the denizens of the interwebs. These readers crave new content, not unlike the way the ancient Athenians daily gathered on Mars’ Hill to hear some new thing (Acts 17.21). And if you don’t keep your content fresh, you lose readers. So even if you do not monetize your blog, as this is a non-monetized blog, one still wants to have readers to make the endeavor worthwhile. It is not necessarily a numbers thing, but more eyes ensure that more seed-casting and watering can occur so that God brings an increase (1 Corinthians 3.5-7).
Hence, there is wisdom in distributing this chore to five men, each bringing their perspective to the task. As one who has repeatedly tried and failed at blogging because of physical infirmity and ADHD, one article a week is a fantastic achievement. However, I get tired at even the thought of multiplying that effort by five weekdays. But Solomon pointed out that writing is tiring. Yes, this is not a book, per se. But it is still wearisome. Some may mock how something like preaching, teaching, or writing devotional content could be tiring since it is not blue-collar work. The answer lies within physiology since even the brain of a resting person requires about 20% of the body’s energy.1
There are also emotional highs and lows. Sometimes you become sad like Solomon. When you realize, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10.31 NASB1995), you want to figure out how to convince the most stubborn person of their need to obey God. Sometimes you must surmount cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic, and generational differences to do this. So how do I tailor a message to convince this man or woman I desire to win for Christ?
At other times you encounter a gold nugget, something that had never caught your attention in your prior readings through the Scriptures. So, naturally, you want to drop everything and research it, plumbing its depths. But maybe your search leads nowhere. And you end up tossing it upon that humongous pile of things that are the secret things known only to God (cf. Deuteronomy 29.29). Then again, you might hit the Comstock Lode. In this case, not only do you learn something new, but it may even be something that corrects you from the error you ignorantly embraced and taught. At the end of the day, one realizes that he will never exhaust his capacity to learn something from God’s Word. And that should be something that humbles you.
No wonder Solomon ends his message by saying one should not try to tackle the wisdom that we see residing beyond God’s Word. If it can be wearisome to study the Bible, imagine trying to wrap your head around fields of study that are contingent on theories since no one can prove what they believe. For example, just recently, the James Webb Space Telescope showed no signs that the universe is expanding, something necessary if the big bang occurred. There is also no red shift in those galaxies farthest away, indicating no cosmic expansion. So now cosmologists and physicists will go back and have to come up with a new explanation for the universe’s origin. How frustrating, even panic-inducing.2
Solomon sums everything up after the “wearied Preacher’s” last admonition against too much study and “excessive devotion” to books of no eternal value. Our purpose is to fear God and keep His commandments because He will be judging us (12.13-14). If you know enough to save your soul from hell, you are indeed a wise man or woman.
1 Richardson, Michael W. “How Much Energy Does the Brain Use?” BrainFacts.org, Society for Neuroscience, 1 Feb. 2019, www.brainfacts.org/Brain-Anatomy-and-Function/Anatomy/2019/How-Much-Energy-Does-the-Brain-Use-020119.
2 PlanetMoron. “What If the Big Bang Never Happened? the James Webb Space Telescope Might Change Everything.” Not the Bee, Not the Bee, 22 Aug. 2022, notthebee.com/article/what-if-the-big-bang-never-happened.