“Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
Thus begins the Old-Testament book of Ecclesiastes, written at least 2,000 years ago. In it, the ‘teacher’ (whom many believe to be King Solomon, son of King David) rails against the pointlessness of everything:
“All things are wearisome, more than one can say… What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
The book paints a pretty depressing picture. Many people don’t like to read it: “What’s the point?” they ask, ironically; “It just makes me feel worse.”
The book is unusually philosophical; one man seeing where his thoughts take him:
“I built houses for myself and planted vineyards… I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone… I amassed silver and gold… male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart… I denied myself nothing my eyes desired… Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless…”
One could ask why a man who was a follower of God, known to have been wealthy and wise, should be so disdainful of his many blessings, and of the gift of his life. Where’s the joy that followers of God say they experience? One also wonders why his moaning was considered worth including within Scripture. And why is the book counted among the books of ‘wisdom’?
One of the lessons made clear in the book is that wealth doesn’t bring happiness—nor do our own plans, our reliance on our own achievements as the source of our joy. So where does God come into it all? The writer dispenses this wisdom:
“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.”
After 12 chapters, and 37 instances of the word ‘meaningless’, he reminds us to remember our Creator. So the point of the book is to say that whatever we achieve, whatever we think we have in this life, everything is temporary, everything pales into insignificance compared with what God will do for us, forever. And that even if we don’t necessarily always feel happiness, we do have the joy of being in relationship with God.
The first time I read Ecclesiastes, I was delighted. It felt real. It felt like there was someone—even thousands of years ago—who felt like I sometimes feel. Not only that, but it didn’t affect his love of God or God’s love of him.
It’s a book to read when we’re feeling down, because we feel less isolated. And it’s a book to read when we’re feeling flushed with success, because it’s a reminder that nothing we do in our own power ultimately makes any difference: we must place our trust in God; remember our Creator. Everything is meaningless without him.