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Wisdom and Work: Perspectives on Human Labor from Ecclesiastes

J. Daryl Charles


Because of its genre, attempting to interpret Ecclesiastes is difficult, as evidenced by a perusal of most biblical commentaries and the fact of its general neglect in standard teaching and preaching. By ignoring wisdom literature, we miss valuable insights into living, to our great peril, such as: the importance of virtue and moral formation, lessons from physical nature that bear upon human nature, the value of suffering, the reality of divine providence in light of life’s mystery, and an anatomy of stewardship. This essay explores what could be gained through a study of the theme of human labor in Ecclesiastes. It will be argued that two approaches to ultimate reality—one that fails to reckon with divine providence and inscrutability and one that humbly embraces them—are in “dialogue.” The former induces an outlook that is despairing and marked by resignation; the latter, however, receives life, with its fleeting moments, and everything in it—inclusive of human labor—as a “gift” of God. This alternative interpretation, rather than viewing Ecclesiastes as promoting despair and pessimism, understands the book to be teaching through its “indirect theology” that the God-fearer will experience levels of satisfaction and contentment, notably in the context of one’s work, and that this experience, not despair and resignation, is normative.

J. Daryl Charles, "Wisdom and Work: Perspectives on Human Labor from Ecclesiastes," Journal of Markets & Morality 22, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 7-40.

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