“Everything Is Vapor”: Grasping For Meaning Under The Sun -- By: A. B. Caneday

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 15:3 (Fall 2011)
Article: “Everything Is Vapor”: Grasping For Meaning Under The Sun
Author: A. B. Caneday

“Everything Is Vapor”: Grasping For Meaning Under The Sun

A. B. Caneday

A. B. Caneday is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Theology at Northwestern College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

He has written many scholarly articles, including contributions to two recent edited volumes: The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies (Paternoster, 2009) and A Cloud of Witnesses: The Theology of Hebrews in its Ancient Context (T. & T. Clark, 2008). Dr. Caneday is co-author (with Thomas R. Schreiner) of The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (InterVarsity, 2001).


It is not surprising that many, even Christians, receive Qoheleth’s (the Hebrew name for the writer of Ecclesiastes) plainly stated portrayal of all that occurs under the sun as “vapor” as skepticism or unorthodoxy that requires caution, needs chastening, or is unworthy of canonicity apart from a prologue that some orthodox “frame narrator” adds for theological correction.1 For religious individuals, retreat to theodicy, a defense of God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil, is an understandable human reaction. Such a reaction seems reasonable when confronted with the stark enigmas of life under the sun, whether confrontation comes by way of evils of this world befalling one’s personal realm of experience or by candid rehearsal of this world’s evils by another, such as Qoheleth.

One need not be an intentional participant in Pollyanna’s “The Glad Game” to react viscerally to Qoheleth’s worldview, to distance oneself from it, or to label it skepticism or unorthodoxy. Perhaps Qoheleth’s observations concerning death elicit the strongest revulsion that leads readers to indict Qoheleth with unorthodoxy (2:12-17; 3:16-22; 7:1-6; 9:1-6; 12:1-7).2 Witness how people, even Christians, repress grief and sorrow. Euphemisms mute grim reality. Even for Christians, funerals have become celebrations of the deceased rather than ceremonies of mourning the death of a loved one. For it is unnerving and distressing to come face to face with the pervasiveness, perversity, and profundity of the curse with which the Creator inflicted his own creation on account of human rebellion. So, when Qoheleth’s austere observations concerning all things that occur under the sun confront readers, an impulse to retreat to some plausible avoidance mechanism is understandable even if unacceptable, unwarranted, and inexcusable.

Does the fact that Qoheleth’s wo...

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