The first chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes, written by the great King Solomon at the end of a long and eventful life, asks the ultimate question: what is the meaning of life?
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.”
Solomon’s glass is half empty. He has spent his entire life trying to understand all of wisdom “under heaven”. The whole of the book of Ecclesiastes is consistently pessimistic about the point of life. It is all, as he says, like chasing after the wind. You can never catch the wind, you can’t capture it in a bottle or portray it in a picture. You can hear it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. So it is with truth.
The key to understanding Solomon’s thoughts are two very important words – ‘under heaven’. In the verses quoted above he says that the natural circle of life continues relentlessly and if you search for life within this physical and temporal world you will be frustrated – “The eye is not satisfied with seeing…there is nothing new under the sun.”
Later in verse 15, he says .”What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.” He is saying that no matter how we adapt the world and no matter how closely we look we will still never find true meaning. Technological and scientific advancements will lead us no closer.
Solomon’s writings are meant to lead us to place of despair, a place of hopelessness. This rings true with the general theme of the Bible, that without God there is no meaning, no truth to fully satisfy what every human longs for: a relationship with their maker.
Solomon was known to be one of the wisest who ever walked this planet, but his search for wisdom found nothing but a brick wall so tall you cannot pass. The truth is, God put that wall there to provoke these sorts of questions within ourselves. Why is the world so meaningless? Why is truth so fleeting? Why am I never content?
God did this so that we would discover our need for a saviour, Jesus Christ. The Bible says that “God chose what is foolish in this world to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21). What does this mean? It means that you cannot save yourself through understanding, through wisdom, through your own interpretation. It basically means that you cannot be your own god. In order to truly find meaning in life we must surrender our desire to be captain of our own ship and allow God to guide us.
The glorious truth of this is that God has promised us that we can trust him (Romans 8:28). Even during the worst imaginable suffering we could ever endure, we can trust that He is always working to our good. We won’t find meaning in that situation unless we can turn to Jesus and remember that He is wisdom.
“God is infinitely wise and we are not, and it pleases him when we have faith to trust his wisdom even when we do not understand what he is doing.” Wayne Grudem