J. I. Packer: How I Learned to Live Joyfully

A wizened sage named Ecclesiastes tamed my youthful cynicism.
J. I. Packer: How I Learned to Live Joyfully

Christians like to quiz each other about their favorite book in the Bible. Finding out how people experience Scripture—especially those who write books about the Bible—is a natural interest to us. When asked which Bible book is my favorite, I say Ecclesiastes. Should people raise their eyebrows and ask why, I give them two reasons.

First, it is a special pleasure to read an author with whom one resonates. That is how the writer, who called himself Qohelet—Hebrew for “Gatherer,” a title that in Greek became Ecclesiastes, the “Assembly-man”—strikes me. I see him as a reflective senior citizen, a public teacher of wisdom, something of a stylist and wordsmith. As his official testimonial or third-person testimony (it might be either) in 12:10 shows, this man took his instructional task very seriously and labored to communicate memorably. Whether he was the Solomon of history or someone impersonating him—not to deceive but to make points in the most effective way—we do not know. All I am sure of is that each point has maximum strength if it comes from the real Solomon at the end of his life.

Whoever he was, Qohelet was a realist about the many ways in which this world gives us a rough ride. But while temperamentally inclined to pessimism and cynicism, I think, he was kept from falling into either of those craters of despair by a strong theology of joy.

How far this matches the way people see me, I do not know, but this is how I want to see myself—and why I warm to Ecclesiastes as a kindred spirit. (One main difference, of course, is that his thinking is all done within the framework of Old Testament revelation.)

Second, looking back to my late-teens conversion, ...

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