Eswine, Zack. Recovering Eden: The Gospel according to Ecclesiastes.
The short review: I could have dropped the book in highlighter ink, and it wouldn’t look much different than it does now (although drier, I think).
Ecclesiastes is a strange book, one that runs counter to most of our expectations for the Bible and the Christian life. Zack Eswine doesn’t shy away from this strangeness. Instead, he shows us how the Preacher is speaking wisdom in a way that anyone in the world–believer or unbeliever alike–understands.
If Proverbs is like math, mostly dealing in equations in which one thing adds up to equal another, then Ecclesiastes is like music, all mood with melody and tone (9).
A person with no knowledge of the Bible can sit in the pew as this Preacher speaks, and they can feel that he is using their language to speak about things that they themselves know (10).
The Preacher gives language to our ache, poetry for our dreams, and exclamation for our search. … By this means, the God who inspired this text shows us His empathy and His profound understanding of our plight in all of its confusing, emotional, tragic, and maddening forms (12-13).
The title of the book comes from the universal sense that this world is not as it should be. To borrow from Milton, Paradise is indeed lost; what this world once was in all its peaceful, joyous, harmonious glory is long gone. We see pain and suffering and death and disease and foolishness and injustice and wrong. Ecclesiastes sets out to show us that this unease with the world is right, but without leaving us in our despair. The Preacher shows us how to have wisdom to see that there is a “time to weep and a time to laugh,” both without losing hope in God.
In the TV show The West Wing, a parable is told about a man who’s stuck in a hole that he can’t get out of. He’s shouting for help, and sure enough, someone comes along. But then, that guy jumps down into the hole, too! The first man says, “You idiot, what are you doing? Now we’re both stuck down here!” His new companion says, “Yeah, but I’ve been here before. I know the way out.” Solomon never denies the reality, depth, or dirtiness of the hole we’re in, but he also grabs our hand and shows us the hand-holds he’s already found.
The reality of life also includes joys and good things. We aren’t supposed to apologize for those. We don’t neglect them. We aren’t supposed to feel guilty for them. We’re supposed to enjoy them:
Our impending death calls us to prayer and piety (Eccl. 5) but not in isolation from the physical provisions of God for us. Our spouses, our food, our place, our work, and our enjoyment of each other are not meant to fade from view when death speaks. Rather, the Preacher teaches us that these provisions are meant to take their place center stage in our lives with God. These are His gifts to us and are not trash to be thrown into the alley dumpster while we carry our Bibles and sit in the alley, waiting with praise and prayer for death to come. … Therefore, we must learn from God how to enjoy what He has given us, knowing that none of it can save or satisfy us. … To taste the sweetness of ordinary joys, we learn to enter each day with a conviction about the givenness of all things (103-104).
Recovering Eden reads more like Zack Eswine sat down with you over your beverage of choice (never been a coffee drinker, myself; a Cherry or Vanilla Coke Zero will do nicely, thanks) and just talked with you. This book comforts in its honesty, encourages in its hopefulness, and blesses in its determined mission to show us that the “one Shepherd, the one greater than Solomon, He is here” (230).