|Paradox as literary figure|
explain the paradox. Nor can we deny that the paradox is true. Nor can we refute the paradox. Because the paradox has at its core disparate or opposite elements, there can be no contrary viewpoint. In the paradox opposing viewpoints collapse into a single irrefutable statement. Socrates was right— the paradox is easily the ultimate argument. If an argument has no opposite perspective, refutation becomes impossible. We cannot refute the paradox, any more than we can explain the paradox.
As a literary figure, the paradox, is equally fascinating. In literature when the theme of the work can be reduced to a paradox, the literature has force, merit, insight, elegance. Cervantes’ Don Quixote can be reduced to the conflict between idealism (as seen in Don Quixote) and pragmatism (as seen in Sancho Panza). The one is the opposite reflection of the other. In one sense, the two characters form a paradox. At the death of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza stands crying near his bed, “Do not die, do not die.”
Understandably, Sancho Panza is grieving at the passing of his friend, but from the larger literary perspective, there is more. If Don Quixote dies, so must Sancho Panza, for he and Quixote are the contrary elements of the literary paradox. Neither character can live without the other even in fiction.
As nothing that is man’s can last for ever, but all tends ever downwards from its beginning to its end, and above all man’s life, and as Don Quixote’s enjoyed no special dispensation from heaven to stay its course, its end and close came when he least looked for it. For— whether it was of the dejection the thought of his defeat produced, or of heaven’s will that so ordered it— a fever settled upon him and kept him in his bed for six days, during which he was often visited by his friends the curate, the bachelor, and the barber, while his good squire Sancho Panza never quitted his bedside.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ah!” said Sancho weeping, “don’t die, your Grace; my Lord, take my advice and live many years; for the foolishest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die without rhyme or reason, without anybody killing him, or any hands but melancholy’s making an end of him.
De cómo don Quijote cayó malo, y del testamento que hizo, y su muerte
The same is true with the other areas of our life. We cannot separate our sorrows from our joys. A woman gives birth at the moment of her greatest sorrow, but that sorrow immediately is transformed into joy when she hears the sound of her newborn infant crying for life. The sorrow and the joy blend. Clearly, we know when we are in pain, and when we are not, but the transition from one to the other is something we do not know.
Life, then, can only be looked at as a whole, not as segments or parts. Qoheleth knows this, and as a result, his discussion of life is discursive rather than linear. But life does have a distinctive line; just as life has a beginning, life also has an ending. We sometimes call that line a timeline, but what happens on that line tends to happen all throughout that line. Joy cannot be segmented or restricted to a given point on the timeline in the same way age might. We are seven years old only once in life, but we laugh and cry all throughout our lifetime. Qoheleth knows this and in Ecclesiastes discusses life holistically.
As you make your way through Ecclesiastes, think of Don Quixote, think of Sancho Panza, think of contrasting pairs and paradoxes. Look for the different aspects of life and how such aspects overlap into a single coherent whole. As you discover some fresh insights, pause and think about what God may be saying to you.
Whatever you do, don’t read through the book in a hurried fashion. Just as the paradox is intended to slow us down and cause us to think, so are the lessons recorded in Ecclesiastes. The literary outline below will guide you through Ecclesiastes. You may want to put the outline on a nearby table as you read through a part of Ecclesiastes. Make notes to yourself if that will help you. Write out some questions, even though you may not know the answer. Be sure to begin with a prayer as you read this book of God.
|Questions that touch the heart
|1.||What is a paradox? What is unusual about this literary figure?
|2.||How might Don Quixote and Sancho Panza be a literary paradox?
|3.||Which is more satisfying— the doing, or the final completion of a project?
Do you ever find yourself rushing through life, thinking that one day you will pause and begin to live?
Why are you postponing living?
|4.||Ecclesiastes repeatedly cites a refrain, “There is nothing better.” What do the words mean?
|5.||Why is injustice such a problem?
What is envy and how does envy cancel what we may have achieved?
How does popularity fail us?
|6.||If I win the lottery, will I be happy? If I win the lawsuit, will I be happy?
What’s wrong with buying lottery tickets anyway?
What’s wrong with seeking fortune through lawsuits?
I mean, if they have the money, why shouldn’t I sue them?
|7.||Why has my wife turned against me, causing me shame and humiliation in public?
What does Ecclesiastes advise me to do when confronted with such suffering?
|8.||What does God tell me to do with my own hands?
Should I build furniture or play a guitar? Why are such things important?
|9.||My boss is completely unreasonable. At times, I almost hate him.
How did someone who is so stupid ever become a boss?
What does Ecclesiastes tell me to do?
|10.||How quickly will my life pass before my eyes?
Essays on the Meaning of Life
1:1 Title to the work
1:2 Prologue: All is vanity (passing, frail, unsatisfying). Existence is a vicious circle.
1:12 — 2:26 Qoheleth’s search for Meaning in Life
Emptiness of all endeavor (1:16— 2:11)
Conclusion: “All is vanity and a striving after wind” (2:9-11)
Mortality and the Problem of Life (2:12-26)
3:1-22 Divine Providence and Life
Reflections on Providence (3:1-9)
Conclusion: “Enjoyment of life is a gift from God (3:12, 13). Whatever God does endures. His works are not vanity, fleeting, transitory (3:14). Man’s duty and happiness consist in making the best use of the present and improving the opportunities which God gives him.
Helplessness of man (3:16-21)
Conclusion: “There is nothing better than that a man should enjoy his work” (3:22).
4:1— 5:9 Vanity of Life Illustrated Further
Obstacles to happiness in life (4:1-16)
Importance of religion in life (5:1-7)
Comfort in the face of oppression (5:8, 9)
5:10 — 6:12 Vanity of Life Illustrated a Third Time
Emptiness of wealth (5: 10—17)
Conclusion: Man should enjoy all the good which God give him (5:18-20).
Wealth without God (6:1-7)
Meaning of life hidden from man (6:10-12)
7: 1-14 Value of Suffering
7:15-22 Caution against Extremes
7:23-29 The Problem of Evil in Life
8: 1 — 9:12 Perplexities of Life
Mystery of God’s moral rule (8:16 — 9:10)
Uncertainty of Life (9:11, 12)
9:13 — 10:20 Excellence of Wisdom
Limitations of wisdom (9:13 -10:9)
Advantages of wisdom (10:10 -15)
Wise conduct under unreasonable tyrants (10: 16 20)
11:1 — 12:7 Remedies for the Perplexities of Life
Exhortation to benevolence (11:1-6)
Exhortation for a cheerful and contented spirit (11:7-9a)
Exhortation to piety in youth (11:9 — 12:7)
12:8 – 14 Epilogue: All is Vanity
Qoheleth’s concluding remarks (12:8-11)
The Final Conclusion (12:13)