Ecclesiastes 1: 2 (ESV)
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
Oh, Ecclesiastes! Always so upbeat and encouraging!
Let’s be honest here. I have not had a good relationship with Ecclesiastes. I have generally found it baffling at best. I mean sure, I love its conclusion:
Ecclesiastes 12: 13 (ESV)
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
But to get there you have to go through 12 chapters of WOE! VANITY! Life is fleeting! Why bother? It doesn’t matter what you do, it’ll all be gone tomorrow! We are but wind! WOE! VANITY! And I’m like, “Well…I feel uplifted!” I didn’t get it and generally avoided it. But tonight at church I heard the best sermon on Ecclesiastes that I think I’ve ever heard (largely because no one wants to take on Ecclesiastes and its vanity, I’m sure). It helped me realize for the very first time that Ecclesiastes is there, along with pretty much all the rest of the Old Testament, to make us realize how much we need Christ.
As the preacher so eloquently put it, “The preacher (referred to throughout Ecclesiastes) shows up and smashes all your human hopes so you only have one hope remaining: Christ.” Woah. Never thought of it like that.
And this preacher does a pretty good job of smashing all human hope. He makes a very solid case for the fact that all of our toil and labor on earth yields nothing lasting, nothing significant, and nothing satisfying. We are here today, gone tomorrow. None of us is promised anything beyond this moment and “time and chance happens to us all.” Our lives are not only short-lived, but short-remembered. Everything we work for and accomplish will be obsolete within a couple of years. Every once in a while someone does something huge enough that their name will go down in history, but those cases are very very rare, and even then, history generally regards them with mixed feelings. Did they actually make things better, or in the long run did it end up being worse? And we spend our lives running around trying to find a way to just be freaking happy. We run ourselves ragged looking for happiness. Maybe it’s in travel. Maybe it’s in finding that true love. Maybe in a fulfilling career. So we spend all our money on plane tickets and subscriptions to match.com and going back to school because we’re sure we’ve found the right career this time! …. None of these things are bad in and of themselves, but none of them will actually satisfy.
The picture is pretty bleak. But when you realize that the whole thing is exposing a void, you realize exactly how much Jesus Christ accomplished and exactly how big a change our lives underwent when we decided to make him Lord. He takes this short, insignificant, unsatisfying life and transforms it into something eternal and complete. Our life, once so fleeting, is now just the first drop in the bucket of an eternity with our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ – the ones who love us most. Not to mention all our beautiful family. Instead of working our whole lives for something insignificant, each action we take with the love of God in our hearts causes a ripple through eternity. Every kind word to a stranger, every smile, every prayer has eternal impact. And we know that as we stay within his will, our lives are part of the most epic story ever – we are integral parts of God’s plan. Instead of chasing happiness and exhausting ourselves trying to control circumstances so we can remain comfortable and convince ourselves we’re fulfilled, we have love, joy, and peace from our Savior. We can even rejoice in the worst circumstances knowing we’re loved beyond imagination, we’re strong enough to make it through because he strengthens us, and we’re assured of our eternal future!
It’s CRAZY how realizing the desperation of your previous situation makes you appreciate everything you have all over again. I want to cry with thankfulness that I have LIFE, life in abundance and fulness and vivid variety through Christ. That he has done more than set me free from the law of sin and death, he’s taken my fleeting, futile life and transformed it into something essential and effervescent. This is a message our world needs SO MUCH right now. Even more than freedom from the law I think freedom from futility (vanity) resonates with the current state of society. So many people are caught in a frantic rush for fulfillment, or at least some happiness. But you can sense, in many of them, the desperation and hopelessness that’s driving the frenzy. They feel they’re running out of options, and out of time, to be happy and they’re starting to worry that happiness will elude them. People NEED to hear this. Young people especially need to hear this. Guess what? Happiness almost certainly WILL elude you unless you can found it on something more solid than an experience or a healthy lifestyle or a person. Unless, in fact, you found it on something as solid and unchanging and trustworthy as GOD and the Son He sent to save us. Stop chasing happiness. Crush all the hope you had in the world. None of that is going to get you anywhere. There’s only one hope, and that’s Jesus Christ. And with him comes all the joy and fulfillment and completeness than you had ever hoped to find, and then some. Good gravy, when you realize how little we had before, it hits you all over again HOW MUCH we have now. So thankful!