“If you look closely, you’ll see that when the Teacher talks about life under the sun being meaningless—‘under the sun’ is his phrase to talk about life apart from God, life from the purely human perspective—he’s speaking in the first person. You know, ‘I saw this,’ ‘I did this.’ But at the end of the book, the speaker is talking about the Teacher: ‘The Teacher was like this,’ ‘the Teacher did this.’ Those are some of the clues that two different voices speak in the book.”

Noah glanced at his wife, who seemed enthralled. Noah wondered what would happen if he challenged Jack, but he couldn’t remember enough about the book to offer another opinion.

Jack was studying his notes. “Now some people think the two voices are really the same person, and that was what I thought at first—that the Teacher was Solomon. I thought the book was written after he faced the foolishness of his youth, when he turned against God and started worshiping the gods of his foreign wives.” He looked up. “I know this is a little tedious, but I think it is important.”

Noah blushed and hoped Jack had not seen his yawn.

Jack pressed on, “I just have a little more. Some new commentaries, though, suggest that we are really dealing with two different speakers, neither of whom is Solomon. The one in the main part of the book—the Teacher—is a jaundiced, skeptical old man who, on the basis of his observations of life, asks some very tough questions about relationship with God.

“The second is another wise man who wants his son, mentioned in the twelfth verse of chapter 12, to face the irregularities, apparent contradictions and unpredictability of life. The interesting thing is that the second wise man actually affirms many of the Teacher’s observations. In fact, he does not reject any of the old skeptic’s conclusions.

“This is a bit more radical than I prefer to admit. It seems like the last voice, the voice of the godly wise man, ought to contradict the Teacher’s statements. But he never refutes the idea that life ‘under the sun’ is meaningless. He actually affirms those statements, using them to draw us to a brutally honest vision of life before turning to what is really important: fearing God.

“It’s as if the second teacher is saying, ‘Much of what you say is true. But you see only part of the picture. Your perspective is merely “under the sun.” You need also to see what life looks like from “above the sun,” from God’s perspective.’”

Jack straightened up in his chair and looked more intently at everyone in the room. “I hope our reflections in this study will involve far more than mere commentary about what we think the book is teaching. I hope we can engage deep questions most of us would rather ignore. But I have to tell you—I feel a bit nervous about this book, more so than some of the other books we’ve studied. It makes me think in ways that seem out of step with my faith. I’d rather find answers rather than suffer the questions, which makes me . . .”

Noah wasn’t listening. He was staring at Marcia’s legs. She had shifted in her seat, and her tan, well-cut legs stretched out like an invitation to slip into a blue-green pool rather than sit in the hot sun of Jack’s patter.

Marcia, Jack’s wife, was neither young nor stunningly attractive, but her short, brown hair and her intense green eyes gave her a captivating, feline appearance. She was gentle and gracious, but Noah had noticed she held her own in discussions with quick wit and intensity.

Noah glanced over at Joan. Chin in hand, she listened raptly to Jack’s spiel, though she probably had no idea what Jack was talking about. Noah let his eyes jump from one woman to the other, taking in the contrast. He loved Joan, but Marcia—Marcia intrigued him. Though nearly ten years older than Joan and in many ways far less attractive, she exuded a kind of mystery that drew him to her. That and the legs—“Is there anything on your mind, Noah? You seem particularly lost today in your own world.”