This book is one of those rare books worth reading twice.
I bought the book while at Tyndale for a course in Wisdom Literature. I pulled it off the self a few weeks ago as a reference work for a sermon I was writing and couldn’t stop reading. As Kreeft himself wrote (about Wisdom Literature), “a classic is like a cow: it gives fresh milk every morning” (7). This book will pull you in.
Three Philosophies of Life covers three books of the Bible: Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs. Kreeft interprets them in sequence.
Ecclesiastes is hell. As the first truly existentialist work, the author describes life “under the sun,” apart from a God who loves. Kreeft describes this book as a starting point en route to faith. It is “like the silhouette of the rest of the Bible” (23). The final words of Ecclesiastes (whether appended by a later redactor or not) point us toward Job:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV)
Job is purgatory. Kreeft’s footnote on this term demonstrates his sense of humour:
Note to Protestant readers: please do not throw this book away just yet. I am not presupposing or trying to convert anyone to the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. Here I mean by Purgatory any suffering that purges the soul. It begins in this life. If it is completed in the next, you can just as well call it Heaven’s bathroom, if you like. A sanctification by any other name would smell as sweet. (8)
Job followed the advice at the end of Ecclesiastes and suffered greatly. This is still a big spiritual step forward, though, because Job engaged the living God—he didn’t merely philosophize at a distance (cf. Ecclesiastes 5).
Kreeft lays out his theodicy here in logical fashion. He uses Augustine to make the problem clear, “If God were all-good, He would will only good, and if He were all-powerful, He would be able to do all that He wills. But there is evil [as well as good]. Therefore God is either not all-good or not all-powerful, or both” (64).
In the end, Job gained the audience with God he desired. Instead of protesting his innocence, however, he was shut up. This encounter is the transition from the suffering purgatory of Job to …
Song of Songs
Song of Songs is heaven. It is a “double love story, vertical and horizontal, divine and human” (100). As a metaphor, it’s been delved by saints of all ages.
Finally, we’ve reached the point where we understand God as lover and ourselves as beloved. Kreeft reflects on 26 aspects of love, while recognizing that he is only scratching the surface. “For more, both in quantity and quality, go to the saints” (201).
Kreeft’s Three Philosophies will make these three ancient books of Scripture come alive in your life.
—Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989).