Pointless! Pointless! — says Kohelet —
Utterly meaningless! Nothing matters!
What does a person gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?
Generations come, generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, the sun sets;
then it speeds to its place and rises there.
The wind blows south,
then it turns north;
the wind blows all around
and keeps returning to its rounds.
All the rivers flow to the sea,
yet the sea is not full;
to the place where the rivers flow,
there they keep on flowing.
Everything is wearisome,
more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
the ear not filled up with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new
under the sun.
Is there something of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It existed already in the ages before us.
No one remembers the people of long ago;
and those to come will not be remembered
by those who come after them. (Source: Eccl 1:2-11, CJB)
Doesn’t that just make you feel Holy in the morning? ‘Nothing matters!’ ‘Everything you’re doing is entirely pointless!’
Believe it or not, Ecclesiastes was the first book on which I ever did an independent study.
An Introduction to the Meaningless Nature of Life
When I was around the age of 11 I began taking my faith and making it individually mine. I had completed my confirmation classes in the Lutheran church and academically understood what was taught in church and what my family talked about during our morning devotions (we had a devotion every morning before work/school). What I hadn’t done is taken “the Savior” and made it “My Savior” through my own study and devotion. After my parents would go to bed, I would get my Bible and go into my closet with the light on (sorry, mom). There I started reading through Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs was to help refresh me and Ecclesiastes was to help me grow.
I have no idea why I started out with Ecclesiastes or what drew me to that book. What I do know is that it shaped a lot of what I believe and how I see life today. Solomon, an individual with countless wealth and possessions, unquestioned power, women, influence, and health spends twelve chapters detailing his experiences in pursuing and attaining everything life has to offer. After each lesson, he typically closes with a sentence such as this…
Pointless! Meaningless! — says [Solomon],
Nothing matters at all! (Source: Eccl 12:8, CJB)
Money? Meaningless. Power? Meaningless. Career? Meaningless. Beautiful women? Meaningless (don’t tell my wife I said that). All of these things are meaningless.
What this did to me as a young man was establish an expectation that the world was starkly different than what really mattered. The world tells middle-class teens that they must go to school, prepare for a career, get a job, invest in retirement, and one day die with enough possessions that someone can say you “won” or lived a good life. If we were to ask Solomon, he would tell us that the pursuit of every piece of that serves no purpose that will last beyond a single season of our lives.
Some accuse this line of thinking as being depressing or overtly cynical. Those individuals are correct if this is truly where the discussion ends. If there is nothing more to life than what we have in front of our faces, then there really is no point to life. In a way, you can see how there are some many people suffering from depression and thoughts of suicide or self-harm when you consider how many people still struggle to understand what Solomon discovered thousands of years ago: pursuit of the things life has to offer will ultimately result in disappointment.
So why live? We pursue anything? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life (the one million dollar question)?
We find an answer in Solomon’s final words of the book of Ecclesiastes.
Here is the final conclusion, now that you have heard everything: fear God, and keep his mitzvot (commands); this is what being human is all about. For God will bring to judgment everything we do, including every secret, whether good or bad (Source: Eccl 12:12-14, CJB)
The reason why all of life’s pursuits, individually, as so meaningless is because it is the pursuit of God that comprises the meaning of life. Solomon isn’t saying that there is anything wrong with the pursuit of knowledge, wealth, or social popularity. Rather, Solomon is offering that those things do not give us meaning. The only thing that gives us meaning and purpose is who we are in God. Here we see that Ecclesiastes isn’t about being depressing or cynical; it’s about realigning our life’s priorities to focus on God’s Will and His direction for our lives.
As that young 11 year old boy studying the metaphorical Gospel of cynicism in my bedroom closet, Ecclesiastes helped establish my expectations for everything I would pursue later in life. Understanding that status in my church, recognition of my giving or efforts, and influence over the actions of a ministry or organization were meaningless absent of a pursuit of God and God’s Glory provided a strong defense against the struggles of adult life both in and outside of the church.
When I was a band nerd in high school (because I’m totally not a nerd today), my band instructor would tell us, “if applause is all you ever play for, it’s all you’ll ever get.” What he was really telling us was that we should play music for a deeper purpose that is more individually satisfying and that way, regardless of the ‘reaction’ you got from a particular audience, you would always be satisfied with your work. This same lesson applies to our study of Ecclesiastes. If wealth, influence, and personal glory are all we ever pursue, that’s probably all we’re ever going to get. That begs a question for all of us: what are we pursuing? Are we pursuing God’s teachings and His Will or are we pursuing the meaningless things this world has to offer? Are we storing up everlasting treasures in heaven or temporary and fleeting treasure here on earth? Whether you’re an 11 year old pre-teen or an 80 year old senior, it is never too late to begin asking ourselves whether we are pursuing a life of meaning and, if not, what we can do to shift our focus towards a life serving God’s purposes rather than our own.