“Futile! Futile!” laments the Teacher,
“Absolutely futile! Everything is futile!”
But isn’t that way too pessimistic? Isn’t that the approach to life that Nietzsche, in particular, warned us against? The attitude of the “spirit of gravity” needs to be countered. Life is not futile. Zarathustra can call out:
Behold what fullness there is about us! And out of such overflow,
it is beautiful to look out upon distant seas.
Everything (kol in Hebrew) means more than just the sum of all objects in the world. It is precisely the “fullness”, the “whole” in which everything rests or moves. The meaning of this whole is just that it is “hevel”, that is: futility, vanity, idol, and idolatry combined. “Hevel” is also the name of the first victim of murder in the Bible: Abel. Precisely the meaninglessness of Abel’s death is a demonstration of futility. Futility is tragic and inescapable for those who live in and by the Whole. That is those who are subject to the experience of the continuous loss of meaning. The sun rises and goes down – nothing really has changed and yet there is change. One day follows the other, and yet it is merely another day, just like the previous one. That superb contradiction is not the exception because there is no exception: everything is drowned in the motion of the rule.
Yet, Nietzsche argues against that. What the Preacher calls the Whole of futility, he calls it the Fullness, Overflow and ascribes beauty to it. Nietzsche in this section has one central idea, that of the contradiction between two approaches to life: The creative life versus belief in God: “God is a conjecture.” The idea of a god already expresses creativity. But it is a creativity that is bridled by the wrong aspirations: the aspiration for truth that diminishes life. The human inclination to bow down to a god is the result of a diminished vitality.
God is a conjecture; but I desire that your conjectures should not reach beyond your creative will. Could you create a god? Then do not speak to me of any gods.
Calling the Whole beautiful, and demanding the creativity that conjectures or even creates a God, will not make much of a difference. How will we escape from the experience of Futility if we have nothing but the Whole? Of course, for Nietzsche, there cannot “be” a god that itself escapes the Whole. There cannot be a source of meaning outside this whole, even if our experience seems to affirm that the Whole is in itself meaningless. In this section he provides even a positive demonstration of Gods non-existence:
But let me reveal my heart to you entirely, my friends: if there were gods, how could I endure not to be a god! Hence there are no gods. Though I drew this conclusion, now it draws me.
The conclusion becomes a force. What does it do? Apart from forcing me to create meaning, to create my world, to live in the subjective perspectives that arise out of my sense, my tendencies, my aspirations:
And what you have called world, that shall be created only by you: your reason, your image, your will, your love shall thus be realized. And verily, for your own bliss, you lovers of knowledge.
Can it be, that life is fulfilled when I create poetically my “own world”? The Preacher’s question can come back to haunst us: what is the advantage here? What is the “jitroon”, the added worth, the profit of creating meaning – the Preacher has considered pleasure, work, wine, art – that man can give to himself?
Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless – like chasing the wind!
There is nothing gained from them on earth.”
For Nietzsche, every moment in life is a creative opportunity. The Preacher reflects on the results of all of this creativity and concludes: every moment in life is empty as long as it remains within the Whole. It’s meaning is destroyed by the circularity of life, the movement, the vanishing. There is no “eternal recurrence” by which this moment in time receives weight. It is because only the Whole appears as eternal destruction, that no moment ever has any weight unless it is anchored in something that is not destroyed by the Whole.
Wisdom according to the Preacher is living with the awareness of the Source of the Whole, and finding your spot within it under the protection of the One Being that escapes futility.
3:14 I also know that whatever God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it, and nothing is taken away from it. God has made it this way so that men will fear him.