Ecclesiastes and the Enneagram

I’ve been reading through the Bible this year as part of an invitation from my church to a “Journey Through Scripture,” and it’s been so good for my heart and soul. I’ve been reminded that yep, there are parts of the Bible that are difficult to understand and that can feel a bit like hiking through the mud, but then there are other parts of the Bible that are immediately accessible and astonishingly relevant to our current day. Enter the wisdom books of the Old Testament, particularly Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. I’ve found these gems from Proverbs that made for great conversations with my tween-age kids (as I shared with them how convicted I am about how I can easily give in to anger, too):

Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.

Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise.

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.

Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.

Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.

Proverbs 13:2, 13:10, 15: 1, 16:32, 29:11 (New Living Translation)

Much, much more I could write on the themes of Proverbs, but Proverbs already gets a lot of the “limelight” in books and sermons and articles.

Ecclesiastes is a different story. Outside of the popular “A Time for Everything” passage (“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die …” 3:1-8), we often don’t know what to do with the book that systematically goes through all of life’s most popular pursuits and concludes, “Everything is meaningless.” It’s a bit jarring, to be honest, leaving me with questions like, “What is the point of anything then?” and “How did this book get included in Scripture?” Yet here it is, inviting me (as all wisdom literature does) to go deeper beyond my discomfort, to trace answers to my questions and accept the uncertainty that some questions will remain unanswered this side of eternity.

And yet, I was struck by how Ecclesiastes also brings balance. For a few years now, I’ve been interested in the popularity of the Enneagram (a 9-type personality theory). I was initially skeptical at a theory that would say all people fit into one of 9 personality types, but as I’ve continued to read about it and discuss it with friends who are much more well versed in it than me, there’s a lot that resonates as I’ve learned it’s much more nuanced than a simple 9-personality-type system. What’s unique about the Enneagram distinct from other personality theories is that the nine types arise from motivations. This means that there’s no easy test to determine what your Enneagram type is (although there are many that will help you sort through what your type could be – I recommend this one by “Your Enneagram Coach” ), and you aren’t supposed to “type” other people because you can’t really know what motivates them either. If you’re into the Enneagram, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, rest assured that I’m not going to try to convince you to get on board “the Enneagram train.” I’m simply giving context to what I’m going to suggest – which is how different portions of Ecclesiastes seem to perfectly speak into the excesses (or “vices”) of these nine different Enneagram types. I focused on what speaks to Type Threes, Fours, Fives, Eights, and Sevens, because these are the ones I’ve studied most closely and am most intimately acquainted with (either through my own life or family). [Note: I’m using the labels crafted by Jeff and Beth McCord of “Your Enneagram Coach” as they resonate the most. Click here for their graphic and overview of all nine types.]

For Type Three – “The Admirable Achiever”

Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless – like chasing the wind.

“Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind.”

I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. … Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. …

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God.

Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless – like chasing the wind.

Proverbs 4:4, 4:6, 2:18-23, 5:18-19, 6:9 (NLT)

For Type Four – “The Introspective Individualist”

Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless, like chasing the wind.

To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.

Don’t long for “the good old days.” This is not wise.

Ecclesiastes 6:9, 5:19-20, 6:10 (NLT)

For Type Five – “The Analytical Investigator”

But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.

Ecclesiastes 12:12 (NLT)

For Type Seven – “The Enthusiastic Optimist”

So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?

Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies – so the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time.

Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.

Happy is the land … whose leaders feast at the proper time to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk.

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.”

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, 7:2-4, 7:8, 10:17, 12:1 (NLT)

For Type Eight – “The Passionate Protector”

Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool.

Better to hear the quiet words of a wise person than the shouts of a foolish king. Better to have wisdom than weapons of war, but one sinner can destroy much that is good.

If your boss is angry at you, don’t quit! A quiet spirit can overcome even great mistakes.

Ecclesiastes 7:9, 9:17-18, 10:4 (NLT)