Classic Svithes: Eccelsiastical Svithery



As you may have noticed, I have not been on top of my weekly svithing lately. In order to resolve this issue, I plan on dipping into the archives and bringing back svithes you a) probably haven't read and b) even if you did read it, you don't remember it. This week I'm bringing back the first classical svithe.

This svithe is apropos because today in Sunday School we discussed Ecclesiastes which, as you should know if you do not already, is awesome.

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Eccelsiastical Svithery


Someday I will go through the book of Ecclesiastes and write a long, long essay--maybe even a short book--on why I love it so much. Someday is not today, but I feel like touching briefly on its themes so I'm going to go ahead and do just that. For I am a wild-eyed libertarian.

What drives me crazy is how people dismiss Ecclesiastes as a bunch of pessimistic drudgery. Not so! First of all, people who say that don't really mean pessimism at all--they mean fatalism. Like here:
    . . . and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.
Trees fall.

Where they fall, there they are.

This is not pessimism. And it's not precisely fatalism either. If anything, it's kind of taoey. The message here is relax. Don't worry about things you can't control. The tree fell? So what? The tree fell and there it is. Move on. Only worry about what you can control.

Following immediately after Proverbs as it does, with all its maxims of be good be strong be able do your duty do your best do more et cetera, Ecclesiastes is a breath of fresh air. The Preacher is not relieving the Bible-reader of any responsibility, but he is giving permission not to despair when things don't turn out just right. Yeah, you should follow the good advice in Proverbs, but you know what? Even when you do,
    . . . the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
And that's frustrating. If I work the hardest, shouldn't I get the heftiest reward?

Sure you should. But it doesn't mean you will. And that's why the Preacher is always going on and on about vanity and death. Not because he's depressed or "pessimistic"--but to remind us that placing all our eggs in the basket of brilliant mortal success is nuts. Because we can't control that success.

What can we control, then? Is anything we do of worth? If I can work all my life and die a pauper, what's the point?
    Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment . . . .
In other words, the point is to forget about these short term rewards--what Jesus terms "that which moth doth corrupt and which thieves can break through and steal"--and let's just do the best we can and stop worrying so much about consequences. After all,So forget about the wind and the clouds and just do what you can.

That's not pessimism. That's a relaxed realism and I dig it.
    Rejoice . . . and let thy heart cheer thee . . . walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh . . . . Remember now thy Creator . . . .
And he will remember thee.

original "last week's svithe"

last week's svithe


  1. Um, yes.

    Special kudos for pointing out the juxtaposition of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Hadn't picked up on it before, but it's brilliant, really. You can't really have the one without the other, lest you become either a) a frantic and frustrated perfectionist, or b) a lazy bum who figures it'll all work out in the end so why bother now. Yin and yang and what have you.

  2. "If I work the hardest, shouldn't I get the heftiest reward?" put me in mind of the President Uchtdorf's Continue in Patience talk from the last Priesthood session (I just reread it at my mom's suggestion, seems she thinks I might need some patience...) I actually found it rather refreshing when he admitted to annoyance at not being able to run as fast as those who didn't keep the Word of Wisdom.

    I like Ecclesiastes too. It helps steer me away from my "now, Now, NOW" mindset. We get our benefits and blessing in due time.

  3. .

    I need to reread Pr Uchtdorf's talk in this light. I hadn't thought of the connection.

    But, Jen, forced to choose, yin or yang?

  4. I think I err on the side of Proverbs but lean toward Ecclesiastes, possibly because it balances out my Proverbial nature and I need that.

    Given the choice, though, I'll pick Psalms every time. (And don't you tell me that's not an option, because I've made my decision. So there.)

  5. .

    No, no. I get it. You, David --- hot people stick together.