Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Unlovable Divine (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23)

In this primal divine scream God becomes the unforgiveable, God becomes the unlovable, God becomes the unacceptable.      

     "Completely illusory!" says Qoheleth
     "Completely illusory! Everything is just an illusion!"

     I, Qoheleth, was a ruler of Israel in Jerusalem. I saw it was my duty - aided by Wisdom - to determine all that is accomplished under the sun. What a heavy task God has laid upon us! So now I've see all the works that have been down under the sun, and let me tell you: Everything is an illusion, like chasing the wind.

     I have come to abhor all my labor under the sun, the fruits of which I now must pass on to my successor. Will this person be wise or foolish? Regardless, my successor will be in charge of all mighty things I created under the sun. This too is illusory. For I, a person who has worked wisely, skillfully, and successfully, must leave it to someone who has not so much as lifted a finger - more illusion, another miscarriage of justice. Why do I gain from all my sweat and struggle under the sun? What about the daily struggles, the strain of official duties, the anxiety in the dead of night? This too is illusory.
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Welcome to the world of Ecclesiastes whose author, Qoheleth, gets the award for the most depressing biblical book. Nonetheless though, her insights into the human predicament are keen and stands out in scriptures for her bravery to fix our gaze on the absurdities of life. I keep saying her, for the word Qoheleth, often translated as "the Preacher," is a feminine noun. I take that to mean we are hearing a female voice.

The insights of Qoheleth can be summed up in two words: LIFE SUCKS.

For Qoheleth there is a tediousness to daily living. In face of the onslaught of recalcitrant and intractable powers Qoheleth feels she is existing on the edge of absurdity. Life is a predator dealing out indiscriminate and undeserved sorrow. All life sucks. And according to Qoheleth the reason it sucks is because we carry around in our heads pictures of what life should be like - nostalgic and romantic illusions that, in the end, have nothing to do with reality. 

Partnerships and families that don’t stack up to the illusion in our heads. Work situations that don’t match the picture in our heads. Friendships that don’t measure up to the yard stick in our heads. Health needs that bang against the life-maps in our heads. School settings that don’t live out the scenarios in our heads. Qoheleth says it is vanity to think that life should ever measure up, for life, once stripped of its illusions, sucks! 

This is often difficult for me as a progressive christian to understand. Where I would say the foundational reality of life is that we are children of God, Qoheleth argues that the foundational reality of life is that we are children of sorrow. From her point of view life is an experience to be endured. She tells us she made it her life goal to find out how things got accomplished but it was like chasing the wind. She tells us that she worked hard to leave a legacy for her family, yet the family has no appreciation for the wisdom and skill involved. Her hope that there would be gain from her sweat and struggle was misplaced, an illusion in her head.

Certainly sexual and gender transgressive people can understand Qoheleth's desperation. Porter's photograph from 1971 could be almost any city today some 45 years later. For all our protesting and all our "gains," society only tolerates us at best; hunts us down at worst. 

From a queer perspective we find God doesn’t offer us a way out, but rather God offers us companionship in the midst of life’s absurdities. Wrote the Methodist theologian, Paul Jones,  “As we scream over the way things are for us, so God screams over the way things are for God.” In this primal divine scream God becomes the unforgiveable, God becomes the unlovable, God becomes the unacceptable. 

Whatever it is that is the seldom-acknowledged “un” of our life, which our illusions help hide from us, that “un” God becomes. In becoming our “un” God also becomes a true participant in our sorrow. From a christian perspective we acknowledge that Christ stretches out upon the cross of the world’s absurdity with us and in this act of solidarity our lives are named as holy, sacred, worthy - even as we scream at the banality of it all.

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