I was reading a book this week and the author was reflecting on his faith and he asked himself (and the reader) why the church doesn’t talk about the book of Ecclesiastes that much.
His question struck me. I grew up going to church, and while I didn’t always pay much attention to the messages being preached, I don’t remember ever hearing that much from the book of Ecclesiastes—unless it was at a funeral.
I’ve been having quite the “crisis of faith” over the last few months. In that period of time, I found it especially hard to read the Bible because I just had so much beef with Christians. I didn’t see much of the point.
You could say it was . . . meaningless.
I was sharing my concerns with a trusted friend and pastor of our church some time ago. I admit that when I was sharing with him my feelings about the church and my faith, I mostly wanted him to tell me that I was right and it was all a bunch of goop. He didn’t (thank God). I didn’t really prefer his answer either— “you’re going to be okay / I’m not worried about you / this is normal / etc. etc.” I was thinking in extremes then—either I was a christian or I wasn’t, and I think a part of me didn’t really believe that I was a believer.
I felt trapped between faith and what was tangible. I couldn’t feel anything.
When I told my friend that I wasn’t reading anything, he suggested that I read Ecclesiastes. I didn’t want to. BUT I did reach out to him for help, so that told me above anything else that I wanted help, and that I wanted to believe.
So I took his advice, and whenever I could, I read Ecclesiastes for as long as possible before I overthought anything.
It worked: it was helping, and I was actually feeling a little better. I felt better about how little scripture I was reading (I’m sure God didn’t mind, we were going through something), and God was revealing a lot to me through His Spirit and His word.
It’s kind of unfortunate that we read Ecclesiastes so little as a body of believers. I hope it’s not sacrilegious to say that it’s kind of the “existential crisis” book of the Bible. It’s pretty meta. I liked that it 1.) validated my feelings, and 2.) called me up from my stoop.
Ecclesiastes is essentially a book of wisdom by an unknown author that describes himself as “the Teacher, son of David, King in Jerusalem.” Throughout the book, the author asserts this idea that “everything is meaningless—a chasing after the wind,” and he details this all in 12 chapters. Not to give it all away, but basically everything that he describes leads to the resolution that people should enjoy whatever it is that God has gifted them while they have it because life is short and hard.
This resolution isn’t without a lot of explanation. He’s got a lot to say about why we should be happy and how we can live in it.
In my reading of this book, I’ve uncovered many different lessons and I’ve learned a great deal about the character of God. While I maintain that Ecclesiastes has endless interpretations and lessons for its readers, I’ve narrowed down 10 lessons that I feel were revealed to me as I read.
What is Meaningless?
Well, according to “the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem,” everything is meaningless.
Wisdom, pleasure, folly, toil, achievement, oppression, toil again, friendlessness, words, and probably more than anything else: money.
That pretty much covers it all.
That’s how the Teacher starts his book; I think this is his way of setting up his entire argument.
1:9 reads, “What has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
It’s kind of a depressing way to start, if you ask me. I kind of appreciated it. It starts to make sense as you read through the rest of the book.
- Pleasure is meaningless
2:2, “I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly — my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.”
This verse means a lot to me, especially after the season I was in. I felt trapped between the world and my faith. I knew that there was no real peace or comfort in anything that the world has ever offered me. Drugs? No thanks. Alcohol? in moderation. Money? what money?
What do any of these things lead to? Sadness, depression, heartache. It all leads to bucket-loads of pain.
The Teacher goes on to say that he planted gardens and parks—vineyards—and had slaves and cattle, a harem; he had everything anyone could ever want. “In all this,” he wrote, “my wisdom stayed with me” (v. 9).
and then he writes in verse 11, “yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
and he says this realization ultimately lead to his despair.
- There’s a time for everything
Chapter three is probably one of the most recognizable chapters of Ecclesiastes as well as the entire Bible. I say that hesitantly. It’s mostly read at funerals because it’s a comforting reminder that everything has a time to live, and everything that lives will see a kind of death.
I think about this mostly when things are changing. It helps me to remember that everything is meant to change—nothing remains.
The Teacher makes his point in verse 12, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. (13) That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil — this is the gift from God.”
- Oppression, Toil, and Friendlessness — all are meaningless
Over and over again, the Teacher says that he observed all that was going on under the sun. He saw so much oppression, and he “declared that the dead are happier than the living.”
This references how much better eternity will be than our lives on Earth. If everything in our lives are meaningless, then is it not true that everything in Heaven would have meaning?
I think out of everything that I read, the one thing that resonated the most within me is chapter 4, verse 6:
“Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”
There it is, folks. Peace is better. Peace is better. Peace is better.
I felt so much relief upon reading this. My first thought was, “dang.” I mean, lets think about it—we live in a society in which our “lot” is to work for money so that we can be “successful” in whatever definition we give to the word, and it’s all for what? When we have Jesus, what’s the goal? What happens to it all?
My wing 3 was like, “you mean to tell me this is all for nothing?!” and the Spirit was like, “yeah, man, it is. And that’s okay. What had to be done, was already done.”
And how horrible would it be to work so much that you had no one to share it with? The Teacher explains that to be alone is meaningless. Two is better than one. It’s no good to be alone. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Take that to your wall.
- Happiness is worth it.
No one is satisfied with money. I know because I’m always wanting it and I never seem to have enough. Money won’t bring it. In chapter 6, the Teacher tells a little story:
“A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no mater how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a still-born child is better off than he.”
This tells me that we ought to be happy/content with whatever the Lord has given us. Our striving for so much more without ever having been happy is meaningless. It makes sense. I mean, think of it like this: you’re given a great job, you’ve got three kids or something, a dog, a happy marriage, a house. You’ve got “everything,” right? Except, you want a promotion, so you’re always at work, so you never see your kids, and your husband/wife is alone a lot. You’ve got it all!!! In three years, you’ve never gotten that promotion, your kids graduated—and they don’t know how to communicate with you, and your husband/wife is kinda distant… how sad it that? You never enjoyed it.
That’s kind of what the Teacher is getting at. . .
Why is Everything Meaningless?
I know this question has a million answers. I’ll give you three of them.
- Because Christ (and life with Him) is meaningful
The Teacher details in 12 chapters how short life is and the different ways that we can spend our few days. We can toil—work for “the man” and make money that ultimately goes back to “the man.” So much comes out of that—all of which leads to our lack of satisfaction.
And the author knows that we kind of have to work in the world, so he says this:
“There is something else meaningless that occurs on the earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all days of the life God has given them under the sun.” 8:14-15
Happiness is worth it. Are the poor not happier than the rich? Doesn’t that say something to you?
I leave you with the verses below.
“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife (or your husband), whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun — all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. What ever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” 9:7-10.
Do something that makes you smile this week. Something tells me that it’ll be worth it.
Grace and Peace.