The name Ecclesiastes is translated from Latin into The Preacher. So what exactly is the connection between philosophy and a preacher preaching the gospel? Well, as I’ve written various articles on Christianity, I've found that few atheists are interested in reading them. However, when I've pointedly challenged the philosophical roots of atheism, I've found some atheists eager to step up and defend their beliefs through dialogue and debate. Philosophical questions and challenges are at the core of the book of Ecclesiastes and there is an undertone of evangelism. There's a saying “You can attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.” But, as we'll see in Ecclesiastes, you can attract even more bees by prodding the beehive. But you'd better be prepared for what you're getting into.
Ecclesiastes 12.11 states: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails--given by one Shepherd.” (NIV)
Goads are pointed prods that are used to help direct cattle and sheep. Pointed moral questions help to prick the conscience and guide people towards moral and ethical reason. The firmly embedded nails signify the fixed principles of logic and the reality of absolute truth. Logical arguments help to pin people down who have developed a false paradigm and a false view of reality. Logical arguments help people to see that their beliefs are not in harmony with reality.
When you challenge atheists with words of truth and the need to logically defend their beliefs, you are bringing the message close to home; you are prodding their comfortable beehive. Some will fly away and never think twice about it, but many will sense the need to try and defend their beliefs. Of these, some will be sincere seekers of truth.
In the book of Proverbs, Solomon described honey as something good to eat: "Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste." Many vegans today don't eat honey because they believe it's abusive to bee colonies and it's immoral because it treats bees as slaves. However, the benefits of fresh, raw honey seem to outweigh the offenses that would be suffered by the worker bees in a sustainable bee hive. How can we discern what is actually moral and immoral? Well, for the theist there is a fixed standard in the scriptures and the words and life of Jesus Christ. For the atheist, there is no objective fixed standard for morality and therefore justification for actions is ultimately based on personal opinion or a collective vote. In terms of morality, we theists understand that humans are created in God’s image and this gives human life a more sacred aspect than animal life, though all life has a sacred value in theism. Solomon wrote a proverb outlining this truth. Proverbs 12:10 shows, "The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel." (NLT) The question of morality is a good one and our viewpoint depends on our worldview.
The Absolute Truth of Christ
How can we know if there really are "firmly embedded nails" of absolute truth? In order for objective and absolute truth to exist, there must be a fixed reference point. The centrality of Christ and the crucifixion are a key to understanding the reality of this fixed reference point. Christ lived without sin and was a perfect example of morality. His life and teachings are the touchstone of moral and absolute truth. Physical nails were driven into the person of Christ as a means of bringing redemption to the world and to you personally. This redemptive act transcended the physical realm, having a far-reaching spiritual impact. The fact that the Redeemer is also the Creator shows that objective morality is wholly dependent upon the nature of God. The main message is that God loves you so much that He would be willing to offer his own Son as a sacrifice for your sins so that you could know God personally. Jesus' giving of His own life on the cross exemplifies the ultimate fulfillment of the moral code and justice.
The philosopher Erik Wielenberg is somewhat popular today for attempting to make a case that objective morality exists for atheists. He states "I call such facts basic ethical facts. Such facts are the foundation of (the rest of) objective morality and rest on no foundation themselves." He is correct in stating his atheist ethical facts "rest on no foundation" but incorrect in implying they are resolute, fixed and objective nonetheless. This is noticeable as soon as he attempts to describe specific ethical subjects. He writes, "For instance, I hold that it is just to give people what they deserve…" Well, for people who follow Nietzsche and social Darwinism, it may be better to cheat in order to beat out the competition rather than to be just and fair. If it's an atheistic dog-eat-dog world, then who cares about justice? Wielenberg fails here.
Wielenberg states "pain is intrinsically bad" and "not explained in terms of other states of affairs" but he fails to offer concrete examples of how his "brute ethical facts" apply in various cases. George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and a host of other neoconservatives believe that painful waterboarding is a good thing. I flatly disagree with them. Also, consider the attitude of weight trainers. "No pain, no gain" is a very common and self explanatory mantra. And so pain is not really "intrinsically bad" in the sense that Wielenberg has proposed, void of a "states of affairs."
In a similar vein, you cannot say "all pleasure is morally good." It just doesn't work. Solomon offered that the question of pleasure and satisfaction has deep implications. He pointed out that physical forms of satiation do not satisfy the inner man: "All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied." This holds true no matter how skillful a gourmet chef may be. And this doesn't just apply to food, it applies to all the physical senses: "the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing."
Meaninglessness and Materialism
There is a wealth of insight in the book of Ecclesiastes, but you can break down the main philosophical aspects into three main points:
1. The Emptiness of Worldly Pre-occupations - Eccl. 2:1-11
2. The Brevity of Life - Eccl. 12:1-8
3. The Only Logical Purpose in Life - Eccl. 12:13-14
Solomon begins Ecclesiastes 1.2-3 announcing "'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.' What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?" How discouraging can you get? The key to understanding the book of Ecclesiastes is to understand that he makes many false statements based upon a materialist perspective, in viewing everything "under the sun” as meaningless. Solomon addresses common materialist idols in society and shows why these are meaningless and empty pursuits. Solomon tries learning, laughter an liquor in an attempt to find satisfaction, but he's left empty.
Solomon was the perfect candidate to dispel the illusion that wealth and physical pleasure can bring the kind of deep fulfillment we're searching for in life. As the wealthiest man in history he had everything available at his fingertips. Whatever he desired, he could have. But time after time he was struck by the emptiness of all these material allurements.
Common folks don’t have the money to be able to fulfill whatever whim we may have. In society we are led to believe that if we just had a bigger house, a better job, a more pleasant husband or wife, or whatever it may be, then we would be happy. For us common folks, happiness may seem as though it’s always just around the corner. If only… then I’d be happy. But Solomon became the ultimate object lesson in this regard because he was able to try anything and everything he wanted and he finding out first-hand that materialism represents a sad and vacuous existence compared to theism.
King Solomon of Israel wrote the book of Ecclesiastes after he had backslidden to a certain degree. He had known what was right, but disobeyed God in his life and took on many wives, horse stables and wealth, though these things were forbidden for a king of Israel. Deuteronomy 17:16-17 outlines:
"Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he may multiply horses; because Yahweh has said to you, You shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart not turn away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold."
It seems Solomon allowed his great wisdom get to his head, so to speak, and to fill him with pride. His heart gradually became dulled to God's presence and purpose. But, nevertheless, God disciplined him and allowed him to see his folly. Though he had made mistakes, Solomon offers that truth is still truth and a person should continue to teach the truth as God guides:
“And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.”
Though he learned lessons the hard way, Solomon gave "good heed" to present the truths that he learned and to help teach people his wisdom. It seems he may have been the first "life coach." In the United States the "pursuit of happiness" is considered a fundamental right from the Declaration of Independence. But this pursuit, in and of itself, can become destructive when relativism rules. A 2011 study shows the 10 countries with the highest suicide rates tend to be countries where atheism has predominated. Most on the list are countries of the former Soviet Union where atheism was enforced by the state for over 70 years. Other statistics bear out the fact that atheists are more prone to suicide than theists. The American Journal of Psychiatry published an article December 2004, Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt, with some basic conclusions:
"CONCLUSIONS: Religious affiliation is associated with less suicidal behavior in depressed inpatients. After other factors were controlled, it was found that greater moral objections to suicide and lower aggression level in religiously affiliated subjects may function as protective factors against suicide attempts. Further study about the influence of religious affiliation on aggressive behavior and how moral objections can reduce the probability of acting on suicidal thoughts may offer new therapeutic strategies in suicide prevention."
Two key aspects were cited in the AJP article: less aggressive behavior and a moral objection to suicide. The decrease of aggression in spiritual people may have to do with the knowledge that there is in-fact deep meaning in life. Sometimes intellectuals are prone to suicide. Solomon confirmed that materialist knowledge without spiritual truth brings grief: "For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief."
Like Solomon, people who have large IQs can tend to have inflated egos. In 2010, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Stephen Hawking declared that heaven is a "fairy tale" for fearful people. He is correct in one sense that Christians are fearful in that we fear God with a sense of awe and wonder at his majestic wisdom and power. In contrast to Hawking, the Jewish physicist Alan Sandage was an atheist most of his life but simply could not dispel all the evidence he had seen in the cosmos pointing to God's necessary existence. He became a Christian at age 60, explaining, "I could not live a life full of cynicism. I chose to believe, and a peace of mind came over me." One of the reasons Sandage believed was the complexity of the universe: "The world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnections to be due to chance alone."
It doesn't take a great mind to understand what Solomon and Sandage knew, it only takes an open mind. Three decades ago, Stephen Hawking declared humanity was on the verge of discovering the "theory of everything" with a 50 per cent chance of knowing it by 2000. But by 2010 Hawking had given up hope. If only Hawking had read the book of Ecclesiastes, he could have saved a lot of wasted time: "He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Hawking is a good example showing that intelligence and wisdom are two very distinct things.
The "one shepherd" mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12.9 seems to portray Jesus. In John 10.11, Jesus is quoted as saying “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." NIV Jesus is also referred to as the "word made flesh." In this sense Jesus is the source of all truth and spiritual satisfaction, as implied by Psalm 81:16. "I would satisfy you with wild honey from the rock", Jesus being the rock of our salvation.
The Logical Conclusions
One of the conclusions of Ecclesiastes is that we can live a live of true joy when God is the foundation of our lives:
"It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart."
Another conclusion is that there is ultimate justice in the world and this knowledge has ramifications for a healthy personal life and for a healthy society:
"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."
We will be less prone to bitterness when we realize God will address all injustice in the future. And we understand why corruption is rampant today in society because many people do not believe there is any kind of accountability to our Creator. People assume that they can do anything they can get away with. Hopefully more people will recognize that atheism neither works as a personal philosophy nor as a good basis for society.
Even Communist China sees that theism is pragmatically more effective and beneficial than an atheistic model of society: "The officially atheist Chinese government is surprisingly open to Christianity, at least partially, because it sees a link between the faith and economic success, said a sought after scholar who has relations with governments in Asia." Dr. William Jeynes, senior fellow of The Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J., outlined this fact. But the truth is a dangerous thing and has a way of shaking up deceptive paradigms: "Jeynes concluded by saying that the key message he wants to convey is that China is both open to Christianity and nervous about the religion because of the potential problems it could bring to the communist government."
 American Journal of Psychiatry, Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt, Kanita Dervic, M.D., Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., et al., Am J Psychiatry 161:2303-2308, December 2004 (http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/161/12/2303)
 Raving Theist, Peterson Mother Commits Suicide After Reading Atheist Blog, (http://ravingatheist.com/2003/05/peterson-mother-commits-suicide-after-reading-atheist-blog/)
 Proverbs 24.13, NIV
 IN DEFENSE OF NON-NATURAL, NON-THEISTIC MORAL REALISM" Erik Wielenberg FAITH AND PHILOSOPHY, Vol. 26 No. 1 January 2009 (http://philpapers.org/archive/WIEIDO.1.pdf)
 Ecclesiastes 6.7 (NIV)
 Ecclesiastes 1.8b, KJV
 Ecclesiastes: Guide to Evangelism (http://www.discoveret.org/lcoc/news/01n0606.htm)
 Ecclesiastes 12.9, KJV
 Top 10 Countries With Highest Suicide Rates – 2011 (http://www.top-10lists.com/2011/05/top-10-countries-with-highest-suicide.html)
 See American Journal of Psychiatry
 Ecclesiastes 1.18
 The Guardian, Stephen Hawking: 'There is no heaven; it's a fairy story', (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/may/15/stephen-hawking-interview-there-is-no-heaven)
 The Telegraph, Allan Sandage (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/science-obituaries/8150004/Allan-Sandage.html)
 Leadership U, A Scientist Reflects on Religious Belief (http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth15.html)
 New Scientist, Stephen Hawking says there's no theory of everything, September 2, 2010,
 Ecclesiastes 3.11b, NIV
 Ecclesiastes. 5:18-20
 Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, NIV
 The Christian Post, Scholar: China Notices Link Between Christianity, U.S. Economic Success (http://www.christianpost.com/news/scholar-china-notices-link-between-christianity-us-economic-success-50287/)
How Identity, Logic and Physics Prove God's Existence
Logical Reasons why Moral Relativism is False
The Health and Logic of a Thankful Lifestyle