Bob Hostetler. Life Stinks…And Then You Die: Living Well in a Sick World. Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2013. 240 pp. $14.99.
There are two areas of study in theology that I absolutely love—the Wisdom Literature and spiritual formation. To be honest, their studies often dovetail nicely with one another. This is what Bob Hostetler offers in his newest volume Life Stinks…And Then You Die—a study of Ecclesiastes that instructs the reader on how to live faithfully in a “sick” world. Thus, when I saw this volume on the review list for ACU Press and Leafwood Publishers’ Book Club, I knew that I needed to read it (even if I did not get the chance to review it for the club).
There were a couple of times, as I was reading it, that people would look at the cover and ask me something like they hoped that I did not feel that way or did I actually like the book because the title bothered them so much. To both questions, I affirmed that I did think life stinks and that I was enjoying the book.
Now, let me address what I mean by this: Hostetler’s argument is that life , at least in the mind of the writer of Ecclesiastes (whom Hostetler believes to be Solomon), does, in fact, stink. We do live in a broken, messed-up, polluted, hazardous, imbalanced world. We can point to all kinds of groups and pass the blame unilaterally to them for why our world is the way that it is. Yet, as Hostetler demonstrates, each and every human who has ever lived is to blame for why our world “stinks.” Our choices, often influenced by folly and greed, led to disease, disaster, destruction and death. The result of millions of bad choices over thousands of years leads the writer of Ecclesiastes (and Hostetler as interpreter) to one unarguable conclusion—life does stink. Living in this world is difficult and dangerous.
However, just as the writer of Ecclesiastes discovered, this does not have to dictate how each one of us lives in this “sick world.” Yes, we will experience disaster and heartache. Just this morning, I received a text from a student who asked me to pray for a member of his family that was experiencing a tragic loss. Last week I visited with a former minister who has suffered great illness and loss, both personally and professionally, yet he lives with contentment in his heart because his trust is not found in this world but in God. Life does stink; yet, with God’s grace, we can endure.
The cover of Hostetler’s book is a great image for the message of the book. On the cover is a profile of a young woman with a clothespin clamping her nose closed. Life stinks; yet we do not have to be influenced by the smell. If we remember our Creator and seek after the Creator’s ways, then we can live well in this sick world.
Overall, I enjoyed Hostetler’s book. I thought his study approach was thoughtful and well-developed. I thought his prayers at the end of each chapter were poignant and the study guide at the end of the book will prove useful to classes or study groups. This is not meant to be a scholarly study of Ecclesiastes, so I will reserve any technical comments. In general, this is a great read for anyone wondering what Ecclesiastes has to say to us as we continue to live in this “sick world.”
Rob O’Lynn, ABD
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Ministry
Kentucky Christian University