Ecclesiastes and the Postmodern Teen: The Whole Duty of the Whole

Follow along with us this week and last as we delve into various aspects of the book of Ecclesiastes, and the many ways it speaks to the life of the post-modern teenager.

An unfortunate title for the current generation of students is “The Selfie Generation.” With smartphones and social media has come the overwhelming tendency by many in this generation to constantly manufacture photos of themselves. Major news outlets, including Time and The New York Times, have written about modern postmodern teenagers, and their behavior in front of a screen. Some have even come to the conclusion that this generation is the most narcissistic in history.

And while these articles might represent an overgeneralization, usually written by people of older generations, there is something about the ‘selfie’ that typifies the current crop of students.

Along with the likes, comments, and shares is the desire to be affirmed as a person, to know that others are appreciative of one’s presence, and in so doing find a flicker of purpose and meaning in this world.

When turning to the book of Ecclesiastes we find, in essence, an old man writing a memoir. From his experiences and observations, the ‘Teacher’ writes his final musings in his latter days of life. Through beautiful poetry and prose he reveals his heart to us, and drills down on what is truly important in an earthly life.

His concluding words in the final chapter read,

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Here, in the final words of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher summarizes the whole of his experience and observations regarding life on earth. This passage illustrates clearly that the ways postmodern teenagers so often pursue meaning are meaningless. The author states very clearly that the end of the matter is only to “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

In Wisdom Literature (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), to ‘fear God’ means wisdom, reverence, honor, humility, and right living under God. In doing so, we understand that God is God and we are not.

This is similar to the what Jesus says in Matthew 22:37-40. He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Furthermore, Jesus, when speaking to his disciples in John 14:15 says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And in the first letter of John, we read that keeping the commandments of God is actually loving him (1 John 5:3).

With this in mind, we see the overlap between the Teacher, Jesus, and the Old and New Testaments.

A summary to all this is really to “Love God and love others.” This phrase captures the essence of Jesus’ teaching, as well as the whole of the Scriptures. It makes tweetable what is a library of 66 books. It gets to the guts of Scripture and offers an answer to the question on all our hearts: what am I here for?

Through Jesus, and the writings of the Teacher, we find the whole reason for this earthly life is about knowing God. In knowing God, through the person of Jesus Christ, we find ourselves pieced back together and loved beyond measure, without reason.

Really knowing this inspires us to love God, to follow him, and to love others. This is then expressed through our personalities and lived out as we desire to keep his ways. In so doing we discover rest, refreshment and redemption for our weary and wounded souls.

As we have found over the course of our series, Ecclesiastes speaks powerfully to the postmodern teenager. May we help our teens to scratch through the heavy layers of their circumstances, performance, jobs, relationships, and perhaps even through their selfies to find the real answer to that hard question: why am I here?

May they be committed to fearing God, and keeping his commandments – to loving him and loving others.

Jon Coombs is the Associate Pastor for Youth & Young Adults at Rowville Baptist Church in Melbourne, Australia. For over 15 years he has been working with youth and young adults in churches, schools, mission agencies and not-for-profit organisations. He holds an MDiv from the Melbourne School of Theology and writes regularly at You can find and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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