The one where Qohelet talks about the importance of relationships.
|7 Again, I saw vanity under the sun: 8 the case of solitary individuals, without sons or brothers; yet there is no end to all their toil, and their eyes are never satisfied with riches. “For whom am I toiling,” they ask, “and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is mere breath, and an unhappy business.
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
The first part of this passage reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. He had given himself to work and money, but after an eventful Christmas realizes that he needs more in his life. He needs other people. Qohelet is condemning singleness here. He is writing about people who chose work over relationships. He is writing about people whose children are orphans because their parents choose not to be with them. He is writing about people whose “eyes are never satisfied with riches.”
Qohelet has just said that work is one of the things we can do that gives our lives some purpose, but here he is providing a corrective. Work may add meaning to our lives, but the crucial word here is “add.” In the end work cannot be the end-all-and-be-all of our lives. If we try to make it more than it is, well, it is mere breath.
At this point Qohelet does talk about the value of relationships. “Two are better than one,” he says, and gives a host of practical examples why. (Coming from Alaska, my favorite is the one where two people keep each other warm!)
I usually read the last section at weddings I perform. Qohelet talks about the value of having someone to share your life with. He is echoing a long tradition of people who teach that the best life is one centered around relationships. Aristotle taught that friendship was the highest ethical virtue, and that a friend was a part of your true self. Athanasius of Alexandra wrote that the Triune God is, by definition, a series of relationships (Father to Son, Son to Spirit, Spirit to Father) and that without these series of relationships, the Christian God could not exist.
In the end Qohelet says that a three-ply cord cannot be easily broken. From my limited time doing braid-work, I know that you cannot braid two strands. The two need a third to give them stability. I use this in the wedding sermon, and tell people they actually need more in their marriage than just each other. Being a preacher type I am naturally going to point them to God, and tell them that Christ is that third strand. I’m sure Qohelet, living at least 400 years before Jesus, did not mean that, but why does he talk about a three-ply strand after just extolling the virtues of two helping each other? What did he think that third strand was?
Thoughts and Questions
- While Christianity has been about loving other people, there is also a tradition of people who choose the solitary life—monks, hermits, and others. Do you think one can live a fulfilling life if they have chosen to live in isolation from others?
- Many people do not chose to live alone; it is thrust upon them. What would Qohelet say (or what would you say) to the person who wants to be in a relationship, but cannot find one?
- What do you think Qohelet was referring to when he talks about a “three-ply strand?”