Monday 5 February 2007

Ray Anderson: Exploration into God

Ray S. Anderson, Exploration into God: Sermonic Meditations on the Book of Ecclesiastes (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 111 pp.

Ray Anderson of Fuller Seminary was kind enough to send me a copy of his new collection of sermons on Ecclesiastes, Exploration into God. He originally preached these sermons back in 1964, when he was pastor of the Evangelical Free Church in Covina, California. At the time, he was immersing himself in the works of Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard, and in the novels and plays of Dostoyevsky, James Agee, Thomas Wolfe and Arthur Miller. The sermons in this book arise from this potent blend of the Old Testament and modern existentialist thought. (In his inscription of the book, Ray tells me: “If you like Bultmann, you will love Koheleth!”)

Ray sums up the melancholy poet of Ecclesiastes with the words of Kierkegaard: “What is a poet? An unhappy man who in his heart harbors a deep anguish, but whose lips are so fashioned that the moans which pass over them are transformed into ravishing music” (p. 10).

With deep existential pathos and warm pastoral sensitivity, Ray discusses the melancholy of this ancient poet. He observes that this melancholy comes not merely from life, but from God. God has placed eternity in our hearts, and this “means sadness if you are aware of it” (p. 23). And for just that reason, “the sadness of life is its health”! Similarly, “the vanity of life is its hope”; and “the conflict of life is its harmony.”

Ray thus observes that sad Koheleth is no mere cynic. On the contrary, the poet presses us with the question of God as the meaning of our lives – but he refuses to offer an “easy solution” or a “premature answer” to this question (p. 81). He speaks of the “health” of life only by telling of life’s sadness; he celebrates the “harmony” of life only by stressing life’s conflicts; he speaks of the “hope” of life only by lamenting life’s vanity.

Reading Ecclesiastes is thus “like taking hold of the two poles on a battery” (p. 14). It awakens us with a jolt – but in doing so, it awakens us to God.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ben - and Ray.

Appositely, I have just passed a section in the excellent Pray without Ceasing: Revitalizing Pastoral Care (2006) by Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger where she observes that "Our hearts are restless - not only until they rest in God (Augustine), but also because they rest in God (Jürgen Moltmann)."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads-up. The Kierkegaard quote is a wonderful way of describing Ecclesiastes!

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