We are currently studying the book of Ecclesiastes in our college group (Tuesday nights) and with our young professionals (Friday nights). In preparation I’ve been reading repeatedly the text of Ecclesiastes while also finding help in a small collection of books and commentaries. David Gibson’s book, Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End has been particularly helpful. Below are my favorite quotes.
- Living in light of your death. “Living in light of your death will help you to live wisely and freely and generously. It will give you a big heart and open hands, and enable you to relish all the small things of life in deeply profound ways” (11).
- Pain, but no gain. “From a life full of labor and toil under the sun, people gain absolutely nothing” (23).
- Nothing new under the sun. “The Preacher’s perspective is this: humans long to come across something in their lives that will break the constant repetitive cycle, something to say or see or hear that will be truly new and therefore significant—but there is nothing. No such thing exists” (25).
- The Preacher’s perspective. “But in the poetry that opens his book the Preacher is not commenting on what life is like without Christ. He is not saying this repetitive roundabout is what life is like from a secularlist perspective. This is not what the world feels like from the viewpoint of existential nihilism, or postmodern navel gazing. It’s just what the world is like. It’s reality. It’s the same for everyone….Being a Christian doesn’t stop this being true. Rather, it should make us the first to stop pretending that it isn’t true” (27-28).
- The false promise of change. “Let’s pretend that if we move to a new house, we’ll be happier and will never want to move again…Once you think that at last you’ve made a decisive change in your circumstances, you will soon want to change something else.” (29, 31)
- This is not our home. In this world, those who follow Jesus Christ never find a permanent home. We find peace with God through Christ, and there is rest for the weary and burdened. But the gospel does not lead us into a settled life of contented ease” (35).
- Gift, not gain. “Life in God’s world is gift, not gain” (37).
- The false promise of accomplishment. “Suddenly we turn another corner and the Preacher now becomes industrious (2:4). Perhaps work, management, projects, getting things done—maybe this is the way to go? Could it be this is where happiness dwells? Discipline, goals, finance, building, and farming. Let’s become general manager of the royal estate and chief executive for the parks and gardens department. Why, my name may even be on a plaque on day if I get going and stick with it” (40).
- Death and perspective. “When we accept in a deep way that we are going to die, that reality can stop us expecting too much form all the good things we pursue. We learn to pursue them for what they are in themselves rather than what we need them to be to make use happy. Death reorients us to our limitations as creatures and helps us to see God’s good gifts right in from of us all the time, each and every day of our lives” (45).
- God must give enjoyment. “The Preacher tells us that God has to give us enjoyment, or the thing itself (phone, sex, house, car) will leave us unsatisfied. And the way God gives us enjoyment in his gifts is by giving us perspective on ourselves” (46).
- Justice is coming. “The world is not meant to be like this. Will there ever be a time for justice? The answer is yes. God will retrieve every single injustice, and every single time, and every single activity” (60).
- We, not me. “How are we doing? We, not I. That’s [chapter 4] in a nutshell. We, not me. If you can live in this world in such a way that the person or people beside you—your friend, your spouse, your children, your brother, your sister, the people God has put in your path—are your waking concern and your dominant focus, then you will find happiness. If your head hits the pillow at night full of questions about how you might help and serve someone else, and how you can be a certain kind of person for them, then you will find a gladness and a contentment like nothing else” (66).
- Embrace life for what it is. “The universe you inhabit and the life you have today come from God’s hand as something you do not deserve. Your life is on loan for a short while, and one day God will call time and take it back, just like the library will recall that overdue book on your shelf. So embrace life for what it is rather than what you’d like it to be. Live it before God with reverence and obedience. This is the pathway to joy, even though as you walk it, there will be mystery and pain. Have some nice food. Enjoy a good wine if you want—but be sure to enjoy whatever good things come your way” (67).
- Coming to terms with reality. “Does this all sound too bleak for you? Can someone who believes in God utter words like these? Some writers do want to suggest, of course, that this is not the Preacher’s own perspective and that he is simply describing life without God. But that is far too simplistic. As believers, we have to come to terms honestly with the world as it really is, and the Preacher is looking at the world as it really is” (68).
- Laziness is a way of hating your neighbors. “When we stop and think about serving and loving our neighbor, it prevents too extremes: idle laziness (v. 5) and manic busyness (v. 6). Laziness is a way of hating your neighbors. You have nothing to give them” (71).
- Killing Greed. “Here’s how to sever the root, stop the rot, and kill the evil: spend your money on others. Give it away. Do it regularly, gladly, generously—and you will be happy” (75).
- How to Expose Laziness. “To expose laziness, ask yourself whom you are feeding off and who is doing the work so that you don’t have to. What about giving back to them? If you are an introvert who happily luxuriates in your own company, give one of your afternoons or Saturdays to someone who hates being alone. Give several of them” (76).
- Read the Bible. “It is a fallen world, and interpreting to our complete satisfaction cannot be done. You cannot always read it. But you can read the Bible. And as you read, God is speaking. So listen” (82).
- Speak with simplicity. “So the principle here is very helpful: when you speak to God, or when you speak to others, simplicity safeguards your sincerity” (88).
- The danger of nostalgia. “Nostalgia is a form of escapism by taking a vacation in the past instead of grappling with the present or looking to the future in faith” (102).
- To busy married couples. “If you are too busy to enjoy life you have together, then you are too busy. End of story. If you do not enjoy each other, then it is likely that you are simply taking what you can from each other to pursue other goals and ambitions that are never going to give you all they promise” (113).
- One purpose of earthly trials. “Death and sickness and uncertainty and disaster and sorrow and grief—all of these are means God uses to dislodge us from seeking security here” (115).
- It costs to give. “To cast out or send out, to give to the nth degree, costs. You’ll know you’re doing it if it costs. The way to begin to do it is to find the things in your heart that you think you cannot do without and give them away” (126).
- Diversify. “Don’t live entirely for only one thing, because when it fails, you might fail with it” (128).
- Avoid these two extremes. “Paralyzed by fear of failure, we never try anything. Driven by the desire to succeed, we focus only on one thing” (129).
- The command to enjoy. “Human beings are supposed to enjoy life to the full because that is their divinely assigned portion, and God calls one into account for failure to enjoy….Enjoyment is not only permitted, it is commanded; it is not only an opportunity, it is a divine imperative” (136).
- Morality and hermeneutics. “Reinterpreting the Bible to means something different is always a moral exercise before it is ever an intellectual one” (159).
One thought on “27 Quotes from David Gibson’s ‘Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End’”
I love this book and recommend it to people. I plan to use a link to this page as a “free sample” of the book to increase interest in purchase. Thank you for this distillation of the book in a concise fashion