In a first for Brightest Day, I had the fantastic opportunity to interview David Gibson. For this honour I have IVP to thank, who very kindly arranged the opportunity for me to speak to David, and to David himself for taking the time to answer my questions.
David is the author of Destiny, an engaging, thought-provoking book on the teachings of Ecclesiastes. This is a book of the Bible that has left many Christians (including myself) confused, but Destiny does a brilliant job of going through it piece by piece and looking at what it has to say to Christians today. I’ll post my own review of the book within the next couple of weeks, but for now, I hope you enjoy this interview with David, as he talks about some of themes that he wrote on in Destiny.
Tell me a bit about yourself – what do you do day to day?
I’m a Presbyterian minister in Aberdeen where I live with my wife Angela, two sons and two daughters. I’m the minister of Trinity Church and we’ve been in existence for five years. Day to day life is the pastoral care of our church folks, both believers and non-Christians, trying to read what I can, meeting with our staff team, preparing to preach and lead worship on the Lord’s Day, and providing a free and ever increasing taxi service for my children.
What made you decide to write a book about Ecclesiastes?
A colleague and I preached through Ecclesiastes some years ago and I think it had a big impact on the church family. People loved how it seemed to come from left-field, and yet somehow still connect so deeply to the good news about Jesus and the reality of life in a broken and messed up world. I thought I’d try and inflict the material on a wider audience.
More generally, do you have any tips for Christians struggling to know how to get to grips with books like Ecclesiastes (other than read your book!)?
- The word ‘meaningless’ in Ecclesiastes doesn’t always mean pointless, but usually means something like brief, transient, elusive. That helps to make sense of a lot of head-scratching bits in the book.
- Treat it as preaching the same message as the Lord Jesus preaches in the Gospels. It is part of the Bible’s wisdom literature which means seeing that it’s all about what sin has fractured in our world and why sometimes some things just won’t make sense before the end. Jesus is the one who speaks most about coming judgment in the Bible and Ecclesiastes lines up with this.
- Read it expecting to be surprised and to have your assumptions about God and your life challenged.
Something that comes up in Ecclesiastes several times is taking pleasure in toil – how can Christians do this in their own work lives?
This is very hard, of course, because most people in your typical church labour in stressful jobs or many chip away in unfulfilling work. I think Ecclesiastes can help people to not keep thinking the grass will be greener somewhere else but actually the nature of life east of Eden is that a lot of work will be frustrating. I think the pleasure in work that Ecclesiastes describes comes when we stop using our work as a means to an end of a more fulfilling and richer lifestyle, but rather as a good in itself. When we try to use our work to achieve an ambition of greatness we’re expecting something more from work than it was designed to give.
What can church communities do to support each other to ‘learn to live by preparing to die’?
We can talk about death more openly and honestly together and by being a radically different sort of community with regard to death. Nothing silences people like death – people often lose the power of speech at a funeral until the alcohol flows again. But Christian people should talk about death while we’re in the midst of life. Secondly, I think our Christian communities should be the most alive: they should be places of feasting and fun, where marriage is celebrated and sex is talked about as unashamedly good, where children are cherished and the weak are protected, where people sacrifice themselves for each other in tangible ways. Dying people are often of all people the most alive – and Christians know we’re dying while most other people around us are busy pretending they’re not.
And finally, does Ecclesiastes teach us anything about how to live in the world 2016 has left us with?
It’s been a year of famous deaths, hasn’t it? Doesn’t Ecclesiastes say to us why are we shocked or surprised at this? The same end comes to us all. So when it’s my turn what will they say about me at my funeral? I want people to say: he took hold of life with both hands, he loved others more than he loved himself, he showed his wife and his children that if they have Jesus they have everything, and he lived out the truth that one day God will put everything right. I think Ecclesiastes shows us something of how to live so that these things might be true of each of us.
If you would like to talk about something on Brightest Day, then I would love to hear from you! Drop me an email and we can start the conversation.