Quick. Name the author who wrote the famous lines, "Vanity, vanity! All is vanity!"
If you said Solomon, the ancient king of Israel, you'd be right. It's the opening refrain from Ecclesiastes, uttered after Solomon goes on the ultimate road trip, searching the world for meaning and happiness. He goes on to describe his journeys and offers observations including, "A human being is no better off than an animal because life has no meaning for either. They are both going to the same place --- the dust." And, "In this world you find wickedness where justice and right ought to be ... If you love money you will never be satisfied; if you long to be rich, you will never get all you want. The richer you are, the more mouths you have to feed." For the most part, the book is a downer.
It would be tempting to skip over Ecclesiastes. To not delve into its hopelessness and wrestle with why it's part of Scripture. But as renowned bible teacher Charles Swindoll points out in his book, LIVING ON THE RAGGED EDGE, Ecclesiastes is as true and relevant and important today as it was thousands of years ago.
"Ecclesiastes has today's world woven through the fabric of every page. Whether or not we are willing to admit it, deep within most of us there is this restless, irresponsible, adventuresome itch. Deadlines and responsibilities grate at us. We find ourselves ready to run --- to escape into the back road of our memories, to travel down the blue highways of life under the sun. 'Surely, there I will find what it takes to fill the void.' Before we are able to crank up the car Solomon's advice brings us back to reality: 'Don't bother, it's a pipe dream, empty as a puff of smoke, lacking in substance. It may look like it's worth the effort, but don't bother, life without God under the sun is despair personified.'''
And that's the catch; life without God is worthless.
Still, Swindoll doesn't blithely skip to that part, spouting platitudes about God's goodness along the way. He doesn't pull any punches in describing the world we live in and his take on life is refreshingly honest as he describes the dissatisfaction, discouragement, and despair so many people feel. We are all living on the ragged edge, as he puts it, and ignoring that fact doesn't make us better Christians.
This book, however, does have insight that can make the Christian life more vibrant and authentic.
"The good life --- the one that truly satisfies --- exists only when we stop wanting a better one. It is the condition of savoring what is, rather than longing for what might be. The itch for things, the lust for more --- so brilliantly injected by those who peddle them --- is a virus draining our souls of happy contentment. Have you noticed? A man never earns enough. A woman is never beautiful enough. Clothes are never fashionable enough. Food is never fancy enough. Relationships are never romantic enough. Life is never full enough.
"Satisfactions comes when we step off the escalator of desire and say, 'This is enough. What I have will do. What I make of it is up to me and my vital union with the Lord.'"
Swindoll is an excellent teacher from the pulpit, in front of a classroom, on the radio, and through his many books (this is one of his best). LIVING ON THE RAGGED EDGE has the potential to be an important wake-up call and reminder for all of us, urging us to seek God's wisdom rather than the wisdom of the world and to embrace the mystery and messiness of life on the raged edge. The edge can be uncomfortable, but the view is amazing.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on January 14, 2005