We are in a time of year when we tend to be more reflective and more thankful for the things we are blessed with. We tend to give more thought to the meaning of this life. We all want purpose or a reason for living. What are we contributing? What difference do we make as individuals? Thoughts such as these take us naturally to the book of Ecclesiastes.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon seeks to understand meaning in life so he may share what he learns with others. He calls life under the sun is unprofitable. What this means is that life has meaning, but if we only define ourselves by things of this world, we will ultimately find life meaningless.
Vanity Under the Sun
There is a certain amount of gloom in studying this book. Ecclesiastes 2:11 is only one instance of Solomon expressing distress over the vanity of worldly pursuits. Despair comes when we define ourselves by nothing but carnal standards. Time and again throughout Ecclesiastes 2 and beyond, Solomon expresses despair over his accomplishments. He speaks of vanity – of things that have no true support or continuance.
Solomon sets out to discover whether or not man can find real advantage from his works in this life. He asks this in chapter 1:3 when he asks what profit comes of his labors. He also pursues what, indeed, man should pursue in this life. Chapter 2:3 begins this exploration. He seeks purpose in work, in pleasure, and in general.
Searching for Purpose in this World
Success, friendships, education, comfort, family, wealth, glory, power, enjoyment – all of these are often cited as meaningful in life. In Ecclesiastes 2:1, Solomon begins his search for meaning in pleasures. Chapter 2:16 records him seeking wisdom and honor. Chapter 2:8 records his amassing wealth and possessions. Ecclesiastes 5:10-14 tells us that we will never be satisfied with our material possessions. In all these, Solomon finds vanity.
Ecclesiastes 6:3 explores the joys of a large family. Chapter 1:17 tells of Solomon’s search for worldly wisdom as well as madness and folly. Also, chapter 2:4 begins his search to make a name for himself and surround himself with comfortable things only to realize he would leave everything to someone else. Again, he finds vanity in these worldly pursuits.
If happiness cannot be found in all these things, then why not explore the pleasures of sin? Hebrews 11:24-25 speak about the joys of sin, but these joys are fleeting. The Hebrew author describes their effects as but a season. Romans 6:20-21 speaks of sin as a slave-master that drives one unto death. No true profit or benefit comes from sinful living. Sin does not produce love, respect, or purpose – only harm.
Meaning in Hope
Solomon concludes that life has purpose when it is focused beyond the sun. Under the sun – upon this world – we find little, but God gives us much. Ecclesiastes 2:24, chapter 3:12-13, chapter 5:18-19, all speak of doing good, for goodness is a gift from God. Chapter 8:12, 11:9, 12:13 – these remind us to focus on our Creator. In God, we find goodness and purpose. He motivates us to share that goodness with others, and Solomon assures us that remaining mindful of and obedient of God fulfills the purpose we seek.
There is much for which we can be thankful. We have many worthwhile pursuits, and many of us have professions that help us care for our families. However, the things of this world cannot distract us from the true purpose of this life – the life that is to come. Solomon concludes that God gives our lives purpose and meaning, and, because of that purpose, we have hope.
lesson by Tim Smelser