Ecclesiastes is a strange book. King Solomon, son of David, the wisest and richest man in the world wrote it. But it reads like such a tale of woe and despair, for a man who had everything and knew the Lord. How are we to understand it?
The first couple of chapters sound like a familiar song to those prone to depression. What is the meaning of life, anyway? What does all my labor get me? Nothing, I tell you; nothing. It’s all vanity (a waste of time). Solomon didn’t deny himself any pleasure. I mean, he delighted in wine, women, and song to his heart’s content, but strangely, he found that…. his heart was not content. There was temporary pleasure, but it left him lacking. He pursued riches, beauty, and accomplishments, but despite all he did and how hard he worked, it gave him no satisfaction or meaning. Over and over, he complained how meaningless it all was. “But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.” Ecclesiastes 2:11
King Solomon was the wisest person alive, but as he contemplated that, he realized that both the wise and the foolish eventually die. As he wrote in Ecclesiastes 2:16-23,
“For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten. So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless–like chasing the wind. I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world. 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. It is all meaningless.”
Solomon’s tirade exposes the thinking of someone who lives in the temporal, not the eternal. If there is no such thing as eternity; if there is not a loving, personal God who fills our life with purpose and meaning; then, yes, there is much reason to despair. As Solomon declared in Ecc.1:14,15, “I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. What is wrong cannot be made right. What is missing cannot be recovered.”
This is the logical conclusion of living “under the sun”. When our lives are limited to what we can see, the here and now, then life loses its meaning. The best we can do is work hard, try to do good, have fun, and hope that we get lucky. This is essentially the conclusion that Solomon came to in Ecclesiastes 2:24. “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.”
Solomon was declaring that without the Lord, this is the best attitude one can have towards life. And that is the prevailing worldview, I’d say. Work hard, try to do good, have fun, and hope that you get lucky. Many people resign themselves to the thought that there’s nothing more to life than this.
But others, perhaps the thinkers in society, know that there is more. They are aware of the emptiness in their soul. Perhaps like Solomon, they’ve had wealth, notoriety, and pleasures, but they have left that person unsatisfied. Why are so many famous, accomplished, well-liked people committing suicide these days? What causes someone like Robin Williams or Anthony Bourdain to end their life? Is it because they are disillusioned? Did they buy into the fantasy that if you work hard, do good, enjoy yourself, and gain wealth and experiences, that the hunger in your soul will be satisfied by those things? Perhaps after doing all those things, they felt just as empty as before. Perhaps they never understood what Augustine of Hippo discovered 16 centuries prior: that “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you”. Only a relationship with the living God, the Lord Jesus Christ, can satisfy that restlessness in our soul. Only He can love us unconditionally, and provide us with the meaning, purpose, security, and peace that our hearts long for. No accomplishment, experience, possession or relationship can satisfy our deepest needs. Only God can.
What about you? Are you living an “under the sun” existence, or are you living “in the Son”?
“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:9,10
“Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love.” 2 John 1:3
“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” 1 Corinthians 15:58