There are any number of things we might take away from Ecclesiastes. One is what William Brown in Wisdom’s Wonder sees as the teacher’s redefinition of the fear of God: “To fear God…is to be fearfully receptive in the domain of the Holy, where human initiative is minimized and all scheming is eliminated. To fear God is to acknowledge the gulf between transcendent eminence and fragile creatureliness… Reverence is equated with utmost reticence in matters pertaining to the Divine, both discursive and performative.”
And this fear translates into the formation of a particular sort of character:
- The God fearer is receptive to the pleasure that God gives. “Carpe diem is all about reshaping desire to what is given, not to what one strives for.” The pleasures that God gives are typically small in comparison to the grandiosity of the projects narrated in Eccl. 2. The God-fearer embraces simplicity.
- The God fearer toils for pleasure, not gain.
- The God fearer eschews virtue-osity, any pursuit of virtue as a means of securing one’s existence.
- The God fearer seeks wisdom, that is, wisdom as redefined by Qohelet’s search: “Faced with a world that cannot be mastered, Qohelet urges his readers to go forth freed from obsession and extremism, freed from illusions of grandeur, freed from compulsive striving, yet filled with fear and wonder in the receiving and in the doing, with wonder minus the glory, with wisdom minus Wisdom.”
That’s worth some reflection!