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    Brief & powerless

    When Bertrand Russell writes, “Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark,” one feels bereft of hope, faith and anchor.

    The same morbid feeling arises out of the book of Kohelet. Nothing makes any difference, the book says. “One generation passes away and another generation comes… The sun rises and the sun goes down… That which has been is that which shall be” (1:4,5,9).

    “As he came forth from his mother’s womb, naked shall he go back as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil” (5:14).

    Kohelet reflects the Greek philosophical questions of the time, especially the cyclical concept of history: everything goes round and round, progress is an illusion, and man’s ambitions and aspirations amount to nothing.

    You can seek fame, honour, pleasure or wisdom, but nothing lasts. Your life cannot make a difference. You cannot escape the inexorable forces of nature’s cycle.

    So what is the point of living?

    This is Kohelet’s problem. And immensely bothered as he is by the power of the cyclical forces, he refuses to give in. Surely something can give meaning to life.

    What it is, we find when we reach the end of the book: “The end of the matter, when all has been heard: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13).

    We may be unable to carry anything away, but if we leave behind a record of piety and good deeds something will have been achieved.

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