Hemingway Meets King Solomon

Good Without God! Really?!? (Part VI)

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The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, or “the Preacher,” or “the Teacher,” offers the Christian an opportunity to understand the emptiness and despair that those who do not know God grapple with on a daily basis. Those who do not have a saving faith in Christ are faced with a life that will ultimately end and an eternal existence alone, without God. If there is no God, and no salvation, then not only is there no final point to life, but no purpose or direction to it, either.

There are many things in this book which are dark and hard to understand; and some things which men of corrupt minds grab for their own destruction. But there is enough easy and plain to convince us of the meaninglessness of the world, and its utter insufficiency to make us happy. Solomon’s view of God, at this point in his life, is as the unredeemed man in general views God—not relevant to everyday life.

That is the Horizontal View (HV).

Solomon seems to have written to combat the growing secularization of religion in his own day – for which he held principle accountability. But for us, these words of his provide a valid critique of modern secular humanism. Life is short and filled with many enigmas and inequities. Apart from the assurance of future judgment and life after death furnished by the historical facts of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and bodily resurrection, the future after death is dark and obscure.

Ecclesiastes is unique in scripture. There is no other book like it, because it is the only book in the Bible that reflects a human, rather than a divine, point of view. This book is filled with man-centric ideas. And yet it is wholly inspired by God. This fact may be confusing, because many feel that inspiration is a guarantee of truth. That is not necessarily so. Inspiration by the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of accuracy from a particular point of view.

There is little doubt about the theme of Ecclesiastes; it is announced at the beginning (1:2) and at the end (12:8) of the book. It is echoed throughout. The Teacher declared that everything (in the HV) is “meaningless,” or “vanity,” or “useless;” including work, wisdom, righteousness, wealth, prestige, pleasure, youth and vigor, life, and even the future after death.

But right away in its introduction this book is very careful to point out that what it records is not about divine truth. It presents only the human view of life. You’ll find that over and over, throughout the whole course of Ecclesiastes, one phrase is repeated again and again: “under the sun,” “under the sun.” Everything is evaluated according to appearances alone—this is a man’s point of view of reality, the Horizontal View. As such, Ecclesiastes very accurately summarizes what man thinks. The world “under the sun,” apart from God, is frustrating, cruel, unfair, brief, and “utterly meaningless.”

The proof of his theory lies in the fickle nature, and constant revolutions, of all the creatures, and the perpetual flux and reflux they are in: the sun, wind, and water. His thesis of the futility of everything is demonstrated in the ceaseless activity of nature. The sun and the wind are in constant motion but never arrive at any fixed goal or lasting rest. The streams flow into the sea, yet it is never full.

A Leap Into the Modern Era

In 1926, a young, impulsive Ernest Hemingway hemingwaycompleted writing his first novel, in a ‘fact disguised with fiction’ format that set out to illustrate the emptiness of the post WWI generation. The title of the manuscript migrated from Fiesta to The Lost Generation, to its final published title – The Sun Also Rises.

The story is about a group of American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona, Spain, to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. Each of these characters had survived WWI, but were disoriented, directionless. Each of the characters shadowed Hemingway’s actual circle of friends.

This is considered one of the early modernist novels. Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Among the factors that shaped Modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by the horror of World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.

“Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, activities of daily life, and even the sciences, were becoming ill-fitted to their tasks and outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world.”   Modernism: from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

You can see in this simplistic description of Modernism, how this generation came to a worldview much like Solomon’s – that of the HV.

As a result of WWI, the worldwide influenza epidemic and the Russian revolution, the 1920’s saw many young artists and intellectuals wanting to discard everything that the Judeo-Christian worldview, upon which the United States was founded. There was a wide scale shift toward acceptance of the Humanist philosophy.

Hemingway took a myopic view of the life he was living “under the sun.” He was able to write with some honesty of the relationships through which he was moving. The novel included some not-so-obscure anti-Semitism, fornication and adultery, drunkenness, and veiled homosexual tendencies.

Ultimately, the same futility Solomon records is lived out in the relationships chronicled in this novel; everything just revolves or repeats, to no good end – while “the earth abideth forever.” Hence, the title, The Sun Also Rises, was taken from the KJV Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:5. Interesting that it fits so well; someone obviously knew their Bible.

Hemingway never seemed to find rest. His writing was honest and displayed what he desired in life. He was viewed as ‘a man’s man.’ He was constantly seeking that new thrill that might bring satisfaction or contentment, just as Solomon did in his middle adult years. What he found was depression, improperly dealt with, leading to suicide. Solomon, on the other hand, returned to God in his latter years

This one thing we know for sure:

            For the one without Jesus, life on earth is the best you’ll ever experience;

            For the one with saving faith in Jesus, life on earth is the worst you’ll ever experience.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” [Isaiah 40:28]

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