Existentialism and Despair

Introduction

Solomon used his personal experience, observations about the experiences of others, and his intellect to investigate the mystery of life. He tried to make sense of life apart from divine revelation. Today, we’ll see where this approach leads.

Bible Reading


Ecc 1:12-14 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. (13) And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. (14) I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.


Ecc 1:14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.


Ecc 2:9-11 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. (10) And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. (11) Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.


Ecc 2:17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Existential Despair

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company, existentialism is:

“A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts.”

The approach and core beliefs of existentialism often lead to despair and a sense of emptiness, somtimes called nihilism. According to The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, nihilism flows naturally from existentialism:


“Existential nihilism begins with the notion that the world is without meaning or purpose. Given this circumstance, existence itself–all action, suffering, and feeling–is ultimately senseless and empty.”

Solomon’s Despair

As you’ve seen from today’s Bible reading, even though Solomon was religious, his existential quest lead him to the same conclusions and the same despair. He said that everything was vain, that is, empty or meaningless. He ended up hating life.

What About You?

Are you trusting your intellect and experience to help you make sense of life? If so, can you see from Solomon’s example, where that approach leads?

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