Which Circle of Life?–Ecclesiastes 1:5-8

Can you hear the song playing? If you can’t, you’ll probably have it stuck in your head after this:

It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love.

Apparently, Solomon didn’t see it like this. As we progress deeper into Ecclesiastes, we find “the Preacher” using some of the same imagery that The Lion King made inspiring in its opening song. But where Disney brought a tear to our eye with that imagery, Solomon makes it a pointless, purely mechanistic universe.

The sun rises and the sun sets;
panting, it returns to the place
where it rises.
Gusting to the south,
turning to the north,
turning, turning, goes the wind,
and the wind returns in its cycles.
All the streams flow to the sea,
yet the sea is never full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.–Ecclesiastes 1:5-7

So what’s the difference? Although I’m not going to completely affirm The Lion King’s theology, the difference between that film and what Ecclesiastes seems to be saying hinges on the fact that the Disney product actually has something like a theology and a point to the universe, unless we’re supposed to believe that the sudden burst of sunlight at 3:32 in the video is just a coincidence. “Till we find our place,” the song proclaims, the clouds allowing the sun through on “place.”

What is our place? If we take the opening verses of Ecclesiastes at face value, then we might be listening to the likes of Richard Dawkins, people who claim that we live in a completely unguided, completely accidental world. Why do we have creatures as diverse and wonderful as a lion and a baboon? According to them, it is pure random chance, spiced up with natural selection.

The Preacher points to the sun, wind, and streams. They seem to be going somewhere, but that appearance of purpose is like the appearance of design in life. It’s just an illusion. In fact, those three forces wind up right back where they started their cycles. In these verses, the “circle of life” has no more point than the spinning horses on a carousel.

If we were to buy into the idea that nothing has a point, then really the only rational way of life would seem to be the pursuit of pleasure espoused by Epicureanism. If there’s nothing bigger than me, if the cycles of nature are indeed going nowhere, then why shouldn’t I be as selfish as I want? Why shouldn’t I hate my neighbor and my enemy if it suits me? Why shouldn’t I take and take to get as much of what I want as I can get?

If we believe that the circle of life is of no more significance than the spinning of a pinwheel, which seems to be where Solomon is taking us, then why wouldn’t we be mired in despair, moaning about everything being pointless?

Without God, the circle of life is spiraling toward the death of the sun and the depletion of our natural resources. I’ll opt for Simba’s circle above that, but God has a better one still.