A post by Maynard

There’s a select genre of end-of-the-world novels, and I wanted to put in a word for what may be the best of them. That would be George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, which is the tale of a survivor.

This is a hauntingly beautiful book, and completely detached from today’s frantic reality. The Earth is decimated by a sudden plague (I’m not giving anything away here; this scenario becomes clear in the opening pages), and one man is mysteriously spared. What he finds and what he does — well, let me just say that reading these pages is like living through the experience, and feeling every pang of triumph and tragedy that a human being can encounter.

The title is taken from the opening lines of Ecclesiastes:

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

Ecclesiastes is a fascinating volume, and is in itself worthy of much contemplation. The religious person, if he truly digs in and reads the text, will scratch his head in troubled confusion. This is in the Bible? This? Why it’s blasphemy, pure blasphemy! There must be some mistake here!

For example, from the ninth chapter:

Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

My gosh, that sounds grim, does it not? Enjoy your fleeting and pointless moment, because it is all you have, and you shall soon lose it forever.

These words are attributed to Solomon, and the answer that most satisfies me regarding their meaning is the explanation that this text captures Solomon in the role of the learned but foolish man who has been seduced by the material world. This King, standing at the pinnacle of worldly wealth and power and feminine companionship (700 wives and 300 concubines!), learned the same lesson that today’s celebrities discover: that material life cannot satisfy. The key is the recurring phrase “under the sun”; a reference to all that is of Earth, and exclusive of spirit.

Accepting it from that frame of mind, I appreciate Ecclesiastes as squarely addressing the challenge that all humans must face. We possess material bodies and operate in a material world, and are unavoidably subject to material needs and temptations. To ignore this reality is folly. But Ecclesiastes is a reminder that, even at its best, materialism is not enough.

When an atheist quotes the Bible, he will likely be quoting Ecclesiastes. The ideas here will resonate with both the faithful and the faithless. Ecclesiastes without the Bible would indeed be irreligious. But the Bible without Ecclesiastes would be incomplete.

I hasten to add that Earth Abides is neither a religious book nor a political one. I meandered into this Biblical diversion because…well, it beaconed me in. I hope somebody got something out of it.

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9 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tammy Bruce, Linda Zumpano. Linda Zumpano said: RT @HeyTammyBruce: Book Note: “Earth Abides” http://bit.ly/eDh0vn #tbrs […]

  2. MainelyRight says:

    A view of coming attractions? I’ll wait for the movie! Yeah, I know there are a bunch of those too. Maybe I’ll just wait to be surprised. Did anyone go hunting for a president yesterday as Tammy suggested?

    Thanks, Maynard.

  3. Mrs. Malcontent says:

    Ecclesiates has always been my favorite book of the Bible. There is so much wisdom there. Most post-modern Christians prefer the warm and fuzzy passages and ignore the meat of Scripture.

  4. dwbinder says:

    Thanks Maynard. We must remember the last two verses of Ecclesiastes says, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgement, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” That is pretty clear is it not. Never forget God is always watching and He knows all things. This is the reason Christ gives us deliverance for the evil we will inevitably do and reward us for the good.

  5. 1ntbtn says:

    Thank you Maynard, Material things of any kind will only satisfy the soul temporarily, Anyone, who is a christian knows what I am saying. We have a hope, because we are saved by grace, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, through faith (Ephesians 2:8) We know that there is more, than the blink of an eye life we have here on earth. It is our hope.

  6. Winegirly says:

    Maynard…very interesting that you should discuss Earth Abides. I read this book in the 4th grade…and it has stuck with me since then. Last year, it kept popping into my head, so I searched my bookshelves for it because I had kept it with me through high school and college, even though I never reread it during those years, I felt that I should keep it. However, somewhere along the way I must have given it to someone because I couldn’t find it. I purchased it again last spring and reread it after 30 years. It is one of those books, like The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged that has stayed in my psyche since it’s first reading. Thanks for shining light upon it again.

  7. jethoman says:

    Check out Lucifer’s Hammer, its a great book by a great author Jerry Pournelle.

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