January 25, 2009


Three Ways of Living: The Introduction to Three Philosophies of Life (Peter Kreeft)

There are ultimately only three philosophies of life, and each one is represented by one of the following books of the Bible:

1. Life as vanity: Ecclesiastes
2. Life as suffering: Job
3. Life as love: Song of Songs

No more perfect or profound book has ever been written for any one of these three philosophies of life. Ecciesiastes is the all-time classic of vanity. Job is the all-time classic of suffering. And Song of Songs is the all-time classic of love.

The reason these are the only three possible philosophies of life is because they represent the only three places or conditions in which we can be. Ecclcsiastcs' "vanity" represents Hell. Job's suffering represents Purgatory. [1] And Song of Songs' love represents Heaven. All three conditions begin here and now on earth. As C. S. Lewis put it, "All that seems earth is Hell or Heaven." It is a shattering line, and Lewis added this one to it: "Lord, open not too often my weak eyes to this.

The essence of Hell is not suffering but vanity, not pain but purposelessness, not physical suffering but spiritual suffering. Dante was right to have the sign over Hell's gate read: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

Suffering is not the essence of Hell, because suffering can be hopeful. It was for job. Job never lost his faith and his hope (which is faith directed at the future), and his suffering proved to be purifying, purgative, educational: it gave him eyes to see God. That is why we are all on earth.

Finally, Heaven is love, for Heaven is essentially the presence of God, and God is essentially love. ("God is love.') [...]

Three Theological Virtues

These three books also teach the three greatest things in the world, the three "theological virtues": faith, hope, and charity.

The lesson Ecclesiastes teaches is faith, the necessity of faith, by showing the utter vanity, the emptiness, of life without faith. Ecciesiastes uses only reason, human experience, and sense observation of life "under the sun" as instruments to see and think with; he does not add the eye of faith; and this is not enough to save him from the inevitable conclusion of "vanity of vanities". Then the postscript to the book, in the last few verses, speaks the word of faith. This is not proved by reason or sense observation, as in the rest of the book. This word of faith is the only one big enough to fill the silence of vanity. The word that answers Ecciesiastes' quest and gives the true answer to the question of the meaning of life is known only by faith: "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."

Ecciesiastes has intellectual faith; he believes God exists. But that is not enough. "The demons also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19). Ecciesiastes proves the need for real faith, true faith, lived faith, saving faith, by showing the consequences of its absence, even in the presence of intellectual faith.

Job's lesson is hope. Job has nothing else but hope. Everything else is taken away from him. But hope alone enables him to endure and to triumph.

Song of Songs is wholly about love, the ultimate meaning of life, the greatest thing in the world.

These three books also give us an essential summary of the spiritual history of the world. G. K. Chesterton did that in three sentences: "Paganism was the biggest thing in the world, and Christianity was bigger, and everything since has been comparatively small." Job shows us the heights of pre-Christian hope and heroism. It is not strictly pagan, of course, but it is not yet Christian. Song of Songs shows us the spiritual center of the Christian era, the era the modern secular establishment has told such incredible lies about, the Middle Ages. Finally, Ecciesiastes tells us the truth about the modern, post-Christian world and world view: once the divine Lover's marriage offer is spurned, the modern divorce cannot simply return to being a pagan virgin, any more than an individual who spurns Heaven and chooses Hell can make Hell into Purgatory, hopelessness into hope.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2009 11:25 AM
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