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Literary Interpretation of Ecclesiastes 7: 8-14 -- The Illusion Of Choice and Preference

Updated on July 11, 2012

Everything God, Everything Zen

Choice and preference are an illusion, according to many world religions, as seen here in Ecclesiastes 7:8-14. In America, much emphasis is often placed upon self-will, determining one's own destiny, and making good choices. But the key to most forms of spirituality is merely to stay open and available, patient, not rushing to judgement to quick or pretending to know what's always best. They say hindsight is 20/20, but at the same time, perhaps bad things of the past happen to merely keep you alive. If it had gone different, we often ask and obsess. Well, if it had gone different you might be dead or at least in a worse situation. There is no way to know, and the what if game is futile. Morevor, it's not necessary, nor true. Much of the bible speaks of everything being of God, and much of psychology and forms of Zen appear to echo this sentiment in the sense that "thinking things have to be one way," is a limiting habit on personal freedom and power. Of course, religious people can fall in the pattern of attachment to specific good/bad judgments, sometimes even worse than the non-religious, but the point here is to realize that everything is of God, that this world is his kingdom, and because it's so, there's simply no need to think "things went wrong," just because you find yourself in a difficult time. But before further commentary, here are the lines of this wisdom, taken from one of the most profound pieces of wisdom literature in the western canon.

7: 8-14

[[The end of a thing is better than its beginning,

And the patient in spirit is better than the proud of spirit

Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry

For anger rests in the bosom of fools.

Do not say, "Why were the former days better than these?"

For you do not inquire wisely concerning this

Wisdom is good with an inheritance

And profitable to those who see the sun

For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense

But the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it.

Consider the work of God;

For who can make straight what He has made crooked?

In the day of prosperity be joyful

But in the day of adversity consider

Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other,

So that man can find nothing that will happen after him.

So, God has "appointed the one as well as the other," meaning that it's all meant to be, or at least, meant to accept. This thinking used to annoy me greatly, and often it still does. Because it runs the risk of thinking God is some cruel persecutor, if you have things happen and it's supposed to be "the will of God." Rational people -and most of us are rational people - can turn away from religion completely sometimes because of this. But it doesn't have to be such a personal or direct thing. The point is that whichever direction you go should be accepted as it is, embraced. The desire to resist one's own life would surely be self-defeating. Whether good or bad, whether God's will or simply the nature of a world that has fallen from God (what Buddhists call Samsara), the fact remains that open ground should be embraced and lived in, moment to moment, day to day, and as this continuous embracing of one's own life unfolds, you will be led to new opportunities. Cracks will appear in the fabric of everything. Or, in conclusion, as Leonard Cohen sings,

"Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in."


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