I think that, when there are debates over the nature of the Bible, too much time is spent focused on debating whether historical details can be confirmed or whether cosmological and biological details match up with data from the sciences. In my class on the Bible yesterday, we discussed Ecclesiastes. Students expressed the same surprise (or in some cases shock) I felt when I first encountered the book.
Perhaps the most startling of all is the advice in chapter 7 to be neither too righteous nor too wicked – but to hang on to both. This is not what students were expecting the Bible to say.
The fact that it doesn’t merely ignore the afterlife, but rejects it, was also a cause for some astonishment. This is particularly clear in chapter 3 (in the section after the famous words that became lyrics to a song by The Byrds), where he also says that human beings are but animals and share the same fate.
I’m glad Ecclesiastes is in the canon. Not only does it highlight that these are books that illustrate human reflection about God and meaning, but it communicates that questioning and even doubting can be part of one’s journey of faith. It makes these points more clearly through its presence in the canon than any amount of historical or scientific evidence outside it could, at least from the perspective of religious believers who have a high estimation of the Bible.