A few years back, I went to a pastor’s event to study the book of Ecclesiastes with other pastors in case any of us desired to preach this book. One question that helped us put together the main themes found in the book was: “Is Ecclesiastes pessimistic or optimistic?”
If one were to stop reading the book at chapter 1, we would decidedly choose to call the book pessimistic. We are told that everything is “meaningless” (also translated as futile or vanity, or even breath). Solomon begins his dour reflection by noting how hardly anything changes on this planet in spite of all of our efforts. People come, and people go. Generations don’t remember their ancestors. All of our lives are built around working for that which will not last. This is why some people translate that famous Hebrew word hebel as a vapor. Everything seems to go away. This causes even our very senses to be wearied by their futile tasks (Ecclesiastes 1:8).
So, if all this true, then we are left to ask, what is the point of life, or anything, really? Ecclesiastes will vacillate between words that could be construed as pessimistic or optimistic, but it is good to consider moving forward what fundamental hope is offered with respect to such a bleak picture of human existence.