“Vanity of vanities,” says the preacher. All is vanity.
How can life seem any less meaningful? “What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” Everything just keeps happening over and over. One generation comes, another goes, and the cycle of life starts over. “All things are wearisome…”
But Koheleth was determined to find meaning in life. He sought out many avenues through which he thought he might find happiness. He tried wisdom, only to discover that “in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.”
He tried pleasure. He withheld nothing that he desired from himself. Yet, at the end of the day, he realized that it was “vanity and striving after wind.” There was “no profit under the sun.”
He looked at the world and saw oppression, ugliness, grief, and death. Riches did not live up to its deceitful promises: “The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.” Power is not what it is cracked up to be. In the end, whether a person is rich, poor, good, bad, or anything else, we all end up going back to the dust. As is the fool, so is the wise man.
Looking at life from such an earthly perspective can lead to terrible despair. Koheleth looked at it all; he tried it all. He found nothing ultimately satisfying or meaningful – until he turned back to God.
Once this life is over, there is no coming back: “they no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.” From the outside, it appears that man and beast are the same; they both die just the same and it seems as though there is nothing else. As far as an earthly existence, this is true. However, it is there where the likeness ends. What we cannot see with our eyes is that we have souls that do continue beyond the body. And it is this understanding that affects our grasp of the meaning of life.
“The conclusion, when all has been heard is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”
Knowing that God gives us life both physically and spiritually helps us to better appreciate our existence on this earth. Through God, we can learn to enjoy the simple things of life: the eating and fruit of our labors. We can engage in our activities with a cheerful heart, putting away the grief and anger that characterizes those who have no sense of purpose. It is crucial to remember our Creator if we are going to appreciate and enjoy life here and now.
The apologetic value of the book of Ecclesiastes is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. People are still searching for meaning. They try all the avenues available to them: knowledge, riches, power, pleasure, and anything else they can think of. But they still come up empty-handed. It is when they turn to God that they finally realize that life is not just about the “here and now.” It is about that which cannot be seen. It is about God. It is about our souls.
One day we will go to our eternal home. We will face the judgment of God. Will your life on earth have meant something then? Or will it have been a hopeless chase after meaning and value only to find that nothing makes sense apart from God?
Doy Moyer – firstname.lastname@example.org