Ecclesiastes and Monty Hall

by Bill Davis

We at Kossuth just finished up a series from this summer walking through the book of Ecclesiastes, being instructed in often challenging, sometimes confusing, and consistently bottom-line wisdom of what really matters in life. We encountered many key phrases such as “under the sun,” “all is vanity,” and “for every season.” Yet, there was one phrase that grabbed the attention of my heart the most. And, oddly enough, it reminded me of the game show, Let’s Make A Deal. 

For those millennials unfamiliar with this classic bit of Americana, Let’s Make A Deal was an iconic game show that started before I was even born (just barely). Some version of it is probably still in syndication somewhere, but its heyday found host Monte Hall offering various deals to contestants in crazy costumes competing for prizes. The show culminates in the chance for one contestant to risk all of his or her winnings on an unknown prize behind either door #1, door #2, or door #3. Two of the doors have some fabulous prize, like a new car or dream vacation, while a third door is a bogus “zonk” with a goat or a lone goldfish.

So, in that final contest, the contestant picks a door. Monte reveals one of the unselected doors to show a fabulous prize not selected and offers the chance to switch the selected door. Now, put yourself in those shoes. You picked door #2. Monte reveals the dream vacation package you passed up behind door #1 and gives you a choice to switch. Do you stay with #2, or switch to #3? Are you sure? The question in all this is: does it matter? One door is the new car, and the other is the goat. What are your chances of picking the new car if you switch? 50%, right?

Nope. Turns out your chances for the car are always double if you switch; stay with your first door and you’re doubly likely to go home with a goat. Not 50-50.

Now, I’ve been in some interesting, if not even slightly heated debates with a few exasperated folks that this 2-door choice is not a case of 50-50 odds. (By the way, ask me if you want some proof of an answer, or see this explanation here). Funny how we can get pretty adamant about what we are so sure we “know” to be true... until experience shows us otherwise.

That long-winded backstory, meant to challenge what you think you know and why you think you know it, brings me to Ecclesiastes from this summer. The “Preacher” (the individual sharing all his wisdom) unfolds truths not from speculation, not from a hypothesis, and not from imagination. Instead, the Preacher tells a long series of “been there, done that” reports. He is a man in his later years with an extensive eye-witness account of all walks of life. He has been rich and royalty, and he has observed the poor and oppressed. He has witnessed days of prosperity and days of adversity. He sought meaning in absolutely every corner of life. He nearly amused himself to death. He amassed unprecedented wealth and notoriety. He plowed himself into his work. He often observed what seemed like arbitrary outcomes both for those who play by the rules and for those who cheat and seem to win without (earthly) consequences. He faced all of life and starkly saw the screeching halt that death brought to it no matter what path one’s life followed.

So, after all that hard-earned perspective, it was this phrase that got me: “yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God” (Eccl. 8:12). The Preacher says this against the backdrop of utter frustration in seeing the cheaters win, the “unhappy business” that can be the strife of life, and man’s powerlessness over death. His life serves as the ultimate example of one who’s seen it all and done it all. And yet he knows. He knows that in spite of all the upside-downness that life often puts in our face, he is assured that fearing God is still worth it. It’s still the one, right path for true joy and purpose in living (and dying). In essence, he’s saying that in spite of the fact that all is vanity under the sun and can seem like grasping at vapor, yet he knows that the ultimate point of our existence is living a life of worshipping God. He doesn’t have to guess… he knows.

That’s no 50-50 proposition. It’s a sure thing.