Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Living on the Ragged Edge

by Charles R. Swindoll

Published by Thomas Nelson
384 pages

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:2)

How many of us have felt that way, at one time or another, that the life we live serves no purpose, has no meaning, provides no joy? King Solomon, this great man of God, a man gifted with unsurpassed wisdom who through his weakness became a fool, identifies with us – the common man.

In this book Chuck Swindoll tunnels deep into the heart of Israel’s once great king by methodically dissecting Solomon’s “journal,” a journal in which Solomon holds nothing back. Solomon is painstakingly honest about the life he led and the miserable consequences of his choices. (Note: there is some disagreement about whether Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes, but that does not take away from the important message of the book.) We see a man who has become broken and despondent; someone who, after years of trying to go it on his own, by living a life away from God, by living on the ragged edge, realizes that life “under the sun” – life without God - is truly meaningless.

Swindoll breaks down the book of Ecclesiastes chapter by chapter, often verse by verse, using Greek and Hebrew texts to provide greater depth of meaning. He demonstrates how the book of Ecclesiastes can be a wise tool to use in raising children, in being a leader, in aging, in everyday living. In all of this our only fulfillment comes from God. Only God can fill that vacuum in our hearts, the one so many of us try to fill with earthly things: food, alcohol, drugs, sex, business and busyness, these earthly ‘idols’ which only succeed in pulling us away from God.

Yes, life happens. Life is unfair. Bad things happen to good people. Bad people go unpunished. Swindoll says Solomon is teaching us through examination of his own failures, that yes, life is unfair and, with a horizontal perspective (a humanistic perspective), life is meaningless, but when we look at the unfairness of life with the vertical perspective (upward - relying on God), we realize that even with great wisdom things are beyond our control and that only through trusting in Him, knowing God sees the whole picture, will this life have true meaning. God doesn’t want us to get bogged down with the things of this world. He wants us to enjoy life with Him at the center.

Chuck Swindoll uses 369 pages to explain what my NIV Bible covers in eleven. This demonstrates how thorough he is with his examination of Ecclesiastes. There are times when I felt he could have made his point in a shorter, more concise manner, but all in all, I found Living on the Ragged Edge to be very enlightening. Many things that had confused me before (particularly chapter twelve where Solomon uses vivid metaphors to describe aging), I now feel I understand. It is a book I will definitely read again and I would highly recommend to others.

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