In one sense, I love that Ecclesiastes is in the Bible. It reminds me that it’s okay to feel over it all sometimes and wonder if there’s any point. In another sense, though, it’s a hard book to read through. It brings up some hard truths and seems to present a very cynical view of the world. In other parts of the Bible, we’re called to rejoice always. How then can we reconcile this with the book of Ecclesiastes?
The Bible’s filled with inspirational quotes that work well with beautiful calligraphy and floral backgrounds. The opening of Ecclesiastes, not so much.
Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
Solomon’s at the end of his life and he’s sharing his story – how he tried to find meaning in pleasure, in possessions, in wisdom and in hard work. But ultimately, all of these things are meaningless because they will fade away, and so will we. I think this gets to the heart of Ecclesiastes. Everything is meaningless outside of God. Even things that are good in themselves, like wisdom and enjoyment are nothing if I’m seeking them outside of God, if I’m putting them as the top priority of my life. Cause at the end of my life, the only things that will matter are those things I did for God.
It’s a big challenge not to get distracted by these things of the world. I know even as I was reading through Ecclesiastes, I was distracted by all kinds of things – work, preparing for baby and just vegging out in front of the TV. Putting God first and finding my ultimate meaning in him, that’s something I’m still working on through the power of the Spirit.
Reading Ecclesiastes has also encouraged me not to hide away from the hard things happening in the world. I’d been avoiding keeping up with the news because there’s just too many tragedies to keep up with. But Ecclesiastes is really honest about the state of the world.
Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
Sometimes it’s better, instead of ignoring evil in the wider world and in our immediate circles, to face things, to mourn and take them to God in prayer. Sometimes this world is confusing and harsh. All people will die, life will have its hard moments and some things just seem unfair. And we can’t see what God is doing in the big picture. All we can do is trust that God does have the future and be content with the life he’s given us.
No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun…even if the wise claim to know, they cannot really comprehend it. (Ecclesiastes 8:17)
The whole book is summed up beautifully in the very last verses:
Now all has been heard, here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good and evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
In all our search for meaning, in our own lives and in the world, it all comes back to God. Knowing him and obeying him, and trusting that he will one day make all things right.