JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 27, 2010 – Christians can learn much about engaging society, culture and the great ideas of their day by following the model of Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes, Union University President David S. Dockery said Aug. 27.
“Qoheleth does not retreat from fully exploring the meaning of life under the sun,” Dockery said. “Instead he chooses to engage it, analyze it and evaluate it.”
Dockery addressed the university community during the annual fall convocation and used Ecclesiastes and its author as a pattern for what a Christian learning community should be.
“Here is a key message for us at Union University,” Dockery said. “Many think that Christian higher education is a retreat from serious exploration. After all, we are only concerned, so some think, with the warming of the heart.
“Well, we certainly hope that hearts are warmed toward God on this campus each day, but not in a mere sentimental way,” he continued. “We want this to happen as hearts and minds are renewed and as they are challenged with the rigorous academic processes that characterize this institution.”
Dockery provided an overview of Ecclesiastes, citing the author’s repeated contentions that everything “under the sun” is meaningless and futile. When understood only through the lens of this world, life is empty because it is marked by fallenness and corrupted by sin, Dockery said.
Because of this condition, what is needed is something “that is really new,” something found only in Jesus Christ, the Union president asserted.
“In him we have the promise of a new life, a new birth, a new commandment and the hope of a new heaven and a new earth,” Dockery said. “In the meantime, as we await the consummation of God’s plan, we see the realistic picture painted by Qoheleth that leads us to explore life’s tough questions.”
The way in which he explored those questions is an example for students today, Dockery said. Qoholeth wrestled with things to the point of exasperation, at times leaving his audience frustrated, if not filled with anxiety and maybe anger. But that’s what genuine education is about – not easy, pat answers and not religious sentimentality, but struggling with issues and then finding the right way to communicate them.
Exploring those questions divorced from a God-centered approach, however, will not prove satisfying, Dockery said. Godless philosophy and materialism will prove empty, pleasure will not bring joy and moralism will not answer the ultimate yearnings of the soul.
“We have to choose between two ways of life,” Dockery said. “We can spend our lives in pursuit of position, prominence, knowledge or wealth; yet, we recognize that this never truly satisfies and never provides ultimate security. In the end it results in disaster.
“Or, we can heed the words of (Qoheleth), which is truly our desire and dream for the Union community,” he continued. “We can build a life that begins and ends each day framed by doxology and thanksgiving to God for that particular day, for the blessings of the day, and for the privileges, opportunities and responsibilities that come our way as gifts from God’s good and gracious hand.”
Such recognition of the meaning and purpose that comes only from faithful obedience to the Lord results in a transformational outlook upon everything in life, Dockery said, as Christians devote themselves to a life pursuing more than what’s “under the sun.” Rather than bemoaning its futility and boredom, Christians can find true meaning in everything as they learn to fear God and obey his commands. This outlook allows Christian students to make sense of the world and to find joy in their academic pursuits.
“The final message is not that nothing matters, but it’s that everything matters,” Dockery said about Ecclesiastes. “Art, music, engineering, economics, business, education, healthcare, the sciences, the social sciences, philosophy and theology – it all matters because everything matters to God.”
The convocation service included a time of recognition for Union’s new students and faculty members, as well as senior-level administrators who have assumed new roles in Union’s recent restructuring. Dockery presented plaques to Doug Walker, Tom Rosebrough, Rich Grimm, Jimmy Davis, Richard Wells, Jerry Tidwell, Gene Fant, Greg Thornbury and Carla Sanderson.
The full audio version of Dockery’s address is available at www.uu.edu/audio/detail.cfm?ID=488.