Solomon and Hemingway Sunday Week 24


So, this “Sunday” Series is going to be a little different than usual.  Instead of sharing a sermon or a song from a well-known preacher or hymnist of yesteryear, I’m going to write my own words about two well-known writers of yesteryear– King Solomon and Ernest Hemingway…

As I’ve indicated before, several years ago I taught a little, informal Bible study on the Book of Ecclesiastes.  In that study, I compared Solomon’s Ecclesiastes to both the Book of Job and the writing of Ernest Hemingway.  My minor in college was English Literature, so I was pretty familiar with Hemingway… More familiar than I really ever cared to be, in fact…

The twentieth-century genre in which Hemingway wrote is known as “Existentialism.”  It’s harder to say– and spell, if you are like me– than to explain.  The Existential worldview is basically that everything is meaningless and futile.

“Vanity of vanities says the preacher!  All is meaningless and vexation of the spirit!”  Thousands of years before twentieth-century Existentialism, there was King Solomon decrying by the Holy Spirit, “All is vanity.”  Old Hemingway and the other authors of the mid-twentieth century did not have anything on Solomon under the direction of the Holy Spirit…

And, actually, the links between Hemingway and Solomon aren’t that hard to find.  Hemingway wrote a book called The Sun Also Rises, which is a phrase taken directly out of the Book of Ecclesiastes.  I never had to read a novel by Hemingway in college (Thank heaven!), but I do distinctly remember reading his short story called, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” complete with the infamous “Nada LORD’s Prayer.”

If you aren’t familiar or have never read this little piece of Hemingway Existentialism, here is the link to the short story:

So, that’s a good example of Hemingway’s writing, which can fall under the sub-category of “Existential Despair.” It was stark, coarse, and irreverent– to say the least.

In twentieth century literature, Existential writing usually  could be sub-categorized as either “Existential Despair,” or the “Theater of the Absurd.” Flannery O’Connor was an example of an American Existential writer of the “Theater of the Absurd.”  Here are links to two of the short stories, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People”:

I remember in college, reading through these stories– having to write about them and even do presentations before the class… It was alarming… awkward… bizarre… And yet, looking back now, I wonder if laboring through twentieth-century Existential literature was only a preparatory education on what has now become our every day life.  What was the “Theater of the Absurd” to people a hundred or even fifty years ago, reads more like a modern-day “Reality TV” show or a social media newsfeed…

But the “Theater of the Absurd” aside, what I want to specifically do with this blog is compare and contrast two famous– or infamous– men of history, King Solomon and Ernest Hemingway.  Both men wrote from a philosophy of existentialism… All of human life is vanity… futile… stark… And both men proposed a hedonistic lifestyle as a manner in which to cope with the futile vanity of life.

Solomon wrote: “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun” (Eccl 8:15 KJV).

Hemingway wrote that the response to the vanity of life for the existential man should be recklessly engaging in the “Three B’s”– “Booze, Broads, and Boxing.”  In my modern vernacular– “Beer, Babes, and Baseball (or Basketball, depending on the season).”

And Hemingway lived by this creed.  He most certainly did.  A heavy drinker and a chronic adulterer, he lived the hedonistic highlife to its fullest.  But, in the end, he– like Solomon– realized that such hedonism was total vanity as well.  It was sawdust and mirth.  And the fruit of such pleasures was merely hangovers, health problems, drama, and meaningless energy wasted on things that don’t amount to a hill of beans, like sports.

Where Solomon and Hemingway parted ways was in the conclusion they reached to the matter of the futility of human life.  And I believe that the difference of the conclusion the two men came to was directly related to their reverence for and relationship with– or lack thereof– Jehovah God.  As well as their theological worldview (the two really go hand-n-hand).

While Hemingway declared, “All thinking men are atheists,” Solomon wrote by the Holy Spirit, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 KJV).

Solomon had the Foundation of the God of his fathers– Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  So, though he wandered and strayed and lamented the futility of life, he made his way back to the Truth in the end.  He completed his writing with this conclusion:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man (Eccl 12:13 ESV).

Hemingway’s story, on the other hand, concluded on a different note completely.  It was Hemingway’s philosophy that a man should recognize that life was meaningless and vanity, drown his sorrows in hedonism as long as he could, and then show “grace under pressure,” if you will, and take the brave and correct final step of a courageous thinking- man’s life… suicide.

And thus he did… When it all became too much for Mr. Hemingway, instead of falling on his knees before Jehovah God as Solomon, he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

Several others in Hemingway’s family have followed him in suicide… And he has an almost cult type following… From a Biblical perspective and worldview, his life was totally tragic… But from his own humanistic worldview, his life made perfect sense…

And, in my opinion, he wasn’t really much of a writer either… He was a nihilistic philosopher consumed with himself…

When I think of Hemingway’s suicide, my mind goes to the story of a distant family member’s suicide.  When he became old and did not feel in total control of his own life, he asphyxiated himself in his car in the garage.  At the time, some family members hoped it was an accident, but he had left a check in the glove box of the car for the exact amount that the funeral he had planned for himself was going to cost….

Suicide is an ultimate act of self-love… And it really hurts those left behind…

So, back to Solomon and Hemingway– in conclusion, the two men were both of an existential worldview, but they drastically parted ways in their final analysis of human life.  Because of his reverence for Jehovah God and His Ways, Solomon came to a conclusion and worldview of self-denial.  On the other hand, because of his rejection of Jehovah God and His Ways, Hemingway came to the conclusion and worldview of self-destruction.

Human wisdom without knowledge of God is worse than no wisdom at all.  I’m convinced of it…