The Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem is quoted as describing life as “a blister on top of a tumor, and a boil on top of that.” If you have lived any length of time, you know that life can not only be painful but confusing. It is easy to identify with the words of humanity’s wisest person when he wrote, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
There have been several occasions, as a follower of Jesus and I pastor, that I have asked myself, “Does My Life/Ministry Really Matter?” I am sure at some point all followers of Jesus have pondered the same thing. We should not be surprised that a man gifted by the creator with superior wisdom would also ask this same question. His questioning led him to experiment in different ways in an attempt to discover the core meaning of life. The results were the book of Ecclesiastes which has challenged readers for ages because of King Solomon’s negativity. A lack of understanding often leads individuals to ignore this portion of Scripture or worse, to discredit it for any number of reasons.
This past Sunday we launched a new series titled “Fulfilled!” that will take us through these challenging passages of this book of supposed wisdom. Let me share a few gems from my studies that may lead to a better understanding of Ecclesiastes.
First, we need to consider the author’s station in life. There is much discussion in scholarly circles on authorship. Personally, I am comfortable with the traditional view that King Solomon is the author based on the descriptions within the text. Assuming Solomon is the author, here is the first gem of insight: the author has drifted in his relationship with the Creator. The testimony in 1 Kings 3 reveals David’s heir, Solomon, as a man with a heart for God, just like his father. It has been suggested that Solomon’s works Song of Solomon and Proverbs are the product of an earlier time in life while Ecclesiastes comes from a later period when he had drifted spiritually. We learn of this later period of time, “And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice” (1 Kings 11:9) Ecclesiastes may be the result of God’s correction in Solomon’s life. A life that began well but drifted off course due to apathy towards spiritual things.
Second, Solomon’s (and by application our) struggle is related to abandoning a Godly perspective on life. The use of the term vanity is a translation of a word that could mean midst or vapor. It describes something that appears and disappears with no trace. Solomon identifies that life is like that. It seems to be a merry-go-round that does not stop. It seems as nothing makes a difference or makes sense. Hence the opening statement in the book, “All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2c). Which he follows up with a rhetorical question, “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3)
And here in lies a key insight. The world has no meaning when we look at it from a perspective that excludes the Creator. Solomon’s gradual slide to understand life apart from God, even as the world’s wisest man, left him empty. And as he almost scientifically pursues a quest for understanding in four key areas (the monotony of life, the vanity of wisdom, the futility of wealth and the certainty of death) he comes to the conclusion that nothing makes sense without God. He writes, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
We, like Solomon, have been extraordinarily blessed by the Creator. Yet we easily become disillusioned when we allow ourselves, our interests, our accomplishments and even our stuff to become the focus in our lives, pushing God aside! Which means that the answer to the question, “Does My Life Really Matter?” really depends on my perspective, with or without God!
-Pastor Joe Parkinson