Peter Kreeft wrote an excellent book, Three Philosophies of Life: Ecclesiastes: Life as Vanity, Job: Life as Suffering, Song of Songs: Life as Love. In it he describes the view of life as meaningless, full of suffering or the life of agape—divine love. He uses the template of these three books of the Bible, but also Dante’s Divine Comedy. The life of vanity, or meaninglessness, is like Hell. The life of suffering is like Purgatory and the life of divine love is Heaven. As a philosopher and Christian, Kreeft sees the book of Ecclesiastes as the question: what is the meaning of life? And the rest of the Bible is the answer. So we ask: what is the meaning of life? Is life meaningless? Is it a life of suffering? Or is it a life full of the life and love of God, yet we see it through as glass darkly?
Ecclesiastes: Meaningless - The writer of Ecclesiastes, traditionally Solomon, uses the word “vanity” over and over. What is he referring to? Being vain and selfish? What vanity means is “meaninglessness.” “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil under the sun?” The Hebrew word literally means a chasing after the wind, a grasping after shadows… a wild goose chase. “And there is no wild goose. There is no end or purpose, only an end—finality… death.” There is an emptiness that the contemporary person feels in himself. “Ecclesiastes is the book we moderns fear more than any other. For it is a mirror that shows a great hole, a black spot, where our heart ought to be” (Kreeft 31). The world asks, “What are we here for?” And the response is silence.
Job: Suffering - Why do we suffer? There is no answer. Job delves into this most difficult question. As Kreeft said, “we identify with Job not in his knowledge but in his ignorance.” Two conclusions we may come to in reading Job is either Job is evil or God is not all-powerful or all-good. Yet, God is good and powerful. God is not impersonal and uncaring. The book of Job shows God as a great mystery, not an answer in a textbook. The fact is we suffer in this life. Yet, we suffer in light of an all-good and all-powerful God. God is our end, our purpose. This life is a trial and a testing. Only when we are silent does God tell us who He is. Job is always praying; his friends are always talking. Though Job suffers, he wishes to stand in God’s light. He cannot curse God and die. “God answers Job’s deepest heart quest: to see God face to face; to see Truth, not truths; to meet Truth, not just know it.” Like St. Thomas Aquinas we must answer God’s question “what will you have as a reward?” Thomas Aquinas answers, “Only yourself, Lord.” Maybe this is too easy an answer to suffering, but I’d rather have suffering and union with the eternal Good and Truth, God, than happiness without God.
Song of Songs: Divine love - Song of Songs is a love poem. The poem speaks of divine love. The poem uses intimate imagery that tells who God is and our destiny with God. Peter Kreeft says it best, “This [love] is a parable of the position of every Christian. For Christ did not establish an immediate Heaven on earth. He did not set right all the ills of the world by his first coming; he only planted the seed of that universal redemption. The field of earth and of our human nature is now no longer barren but full of the seed of divine life. But it takes time for the seed to grow, for the Kingdom to come, and we are commanded to pray and work for that coming, that growth, even if we do not yet see the fruits, or even the blossoms, or even the leaves…above the ground of the supernatural plant God planted in the world by the Incarnation and in our souls by faith and baptism and the new birth.”
Christ is the answer to our questions. Ecclesiastes is the philosopher’s book, asking the deepest questions. What is our purpose? It is the journey to the heart of darkness within the journey downward seeing our sin, this fallen sinful world. Then Job teaches us about suffering. That there is no answer to our suffering except God himself. Finally, Song of Songs teaches us that life is filled with joy because of God’s divine love. That divine love is heaven and union with God…the imagery of the bride and the bridegroom…the mysterious union we have in marriage, but ultimately in Paradise. Divine love carries us onward…to see life as full of meaning, even in the midst of suffering. Because God is the God of life and love and joy. God’s love for us spurs us on as we journey in exile waiting for home.