For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied Ecclesiastes 6.
Is God the source of evil? Qoheleth says that God is the source of at least one evil: that men attain wealth and honor, only for God to prevent them from enjoying their accomplishments (v 2). What they have accumulated may fall into the hands of a stranger. Or a man may have a bunch of kids, and his accumulations are swallowed up by the cost of taking care of them (v 3).
In v 9, Qoheleth says that the sight of the eyes is better than desire. Tremper Longman says that ‘The general idea of the proverb is that what is present in hand is better than what one only desires and does not have.” Good advice! But I don’t think that, here at least, Qoheleth is intending it to be good advice. Rather, my impression is that Qoheleth is talking about people who only have desire, meaning that they don’t get to enjoy what is “present at hand.” They work a lot, with little to show for it. As v 7 says, people labor for their mouths, but their appetite is not satisfied.
But Qoheleth realizes in v 10 that God has fore-ordained these things, and that resistance to God (like resistance to the Borg) is futile.
In v 12, Qoheleth wonders if we can truly know what is good for human beings, when we don’t even live that long. The Artscroll commentary says (based on the eighteenth century Jewish writing Metzudas David) that “only a small minority have the intellect to comprehend what is the proper course for a man to take during his short life”. When I am older, I’ll have wisdom about what I should have done when I was younger. But it will be too late then, for I’ll be older. It’s like Ms. McCluskey told Bree on Desperate Housewives a few weeks ago: “Risks you don’t take will become regrets before you know it” (or something like that).
Some commentators I read noted that Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes 6 contradicts his sentiments in Ecclesiastes 3:11: that God makes all things beautiful in their time, implying that we should trust God. In Ecclesiastes 6, by contrast, Qoheleth is saying that God is responsible for the unprofitable toil in life. But commentators then say that we shouldn’t look for flawless consistency in Qoheleth: Qoheleth is musing.