I recently finished David Gibson’s book LIVING LIFE BACKWARD. It’s a book that explores the wisdom found in Ecclesiastes. I wanted to read this book after my counselor alluded to the book of Ecclesiastes.
I was experiencing what I called a “low-grade depression” or simply a “funk.” We all experience this to some degree from time to time, but this time it felt much stronger and harder to shake.
This book essentially re-oriented me to reality. All the sadness and disappointment I was feeling was to be expected. Nothing is out of the normal.. everything is exactly as expected in a world shattered by sin and where we are all returning to dust.
We tend to live life forward, dreaming and planning and hoping big things. Which is all well and good to some extent. But the problem is we can become overly optimistic and when things don’t go as hoped, it can leave us feeling bitter and cynical and confused…and perhaps with a low-grade depression such that I was feeling.
You wouldn’t think to give someone who was becoming cynical or depressed a book that repeats over and over that “life is vanity” and that “no one will ever remember you.” But this is exactly the medicine I needed. I didn’t need to be told everything will be fine. I needed reminded of reality and then to plan life backwards, live life backwards from the fact of death. And then get busy enjoying the life and grace that God had given me now.
Ecclesiastes teaches us to live life backwards. Says the author:
“It encourages us to take the one thing in the future that is certain – our death – and work backward from that point into all the details and decisions and heartaches of our lives, and to think about them from the perspective of the end.”
So instead of living in what Ray Ortlund terms “shallow optimism” and “bitter cynicism,” you can live in the simple wisdom found in Ecclesiastes.
And right now that looks principally like two things:
- Stop pretending. Gibson says, we spend our lives trying to escape the constraints of our created condition…but we avoid this reality by playing let’s pretend. I recognized how I attempt to break the cycle of repetitiveness and ordinariness and so achieve greater satisfaction. I perhaps become too optimistic in my thinking, dreaming and doing. Ecclesiastes teaches you that there is nothing new, no one will remember you or even your children, and to embrace the rhythmical repetition and constraints of our lives that we think isn’t right. It is indeed “right” (in the sense that the world is broken by sin, yet redeemed by Christ) and now we can move forward in wisdom.
- Think gift, not gain. The conclusion of Ecclesiastes is this simple yet profound wisdom: “the gift of God does not make this meaningless go away; the gift of God makes this vanity enjoyable.” Here’s the Preacher’s prescription for living the good life, from Ecclesiastes 2:24. It’s not “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die (for that is all there is).” It’s “eat, drink and be merry (because that is what there is).” We live in the simple wisdom that all life is a gift and grace and find satisfaction in simple gifts and things in life, like food and work and people. Not to leverage these things for gain, but enjoy them for itself. This wisdom is so simple you can miss it.
So think through this and ask, “am I living life forward (out of step with reality, discontent) or backwards (in step with reality, greater contentment and joy)?”