Summary: Only the Christian message gives meaning to life
Dust in the Wind?
“Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.” These lyrics were sung by a seventies rock group called Kansas. If one were to examine all of the lyrics of the song, he or she would find them to be both cynical and depressing. They smell of death. Yet one can see that the writer of the lyrics of the song is intelligent, indeed penetrating. And the music the tune is well written and makes these sad lyrics palatable. Kerry Livgren is just one of the brilliant minds of his times whose words were put to music. Paul Simon is equally prophetic in his song “The Sound of Silence” as is John Lennon in the song “Imagine”. But for all their brilliance, we are confronted with a feeling of emptiness. All of these songs are no more than sweet nothings which in the long run makes for an empty bitterness.
These artist belong to a generation in which I came to adulthood. I heard these songs many times without realizing the gravity of what they said. These words are subliminally and subconsciously implanted into the human mind. When we are openly confronted with their message, we react strongly against them. We do not realize today the power of music. It can either sweeten or poison the soul. It either gives meaning to life, or it slowly drains the life from a culture.
But words and thoughts like these are not limited to one generation. The prophets of this message don’t just write their mute songs in tenement halls and subway walls. Brilliant minds have silently sounded their message wrapped up as music or poetry. The great Shakespeare in his poem “All the World’s a Stage, brilliantly echoes the same sentiments. We see words like these in the Greek philosophers and playwrights. We even get the word “cynic” from one of these philosophies. It would be impossible in this sermon to cite all the examples, but this mindset plagues all human cultures in all times. What is the meaning of life? Does it have any meaning at all? It seems from these learned men and women that the answer is no. We are nothing but “dust in the wind”.
So what does the Bible say about this. Are we “dust in the wind?” One could take the text in Genesis which says “from dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return” out of its context to support this. But the fuller context of this verse tells us that God created us for a purpose. The return to dust was part of the curse because of the fall of Adam and Eve. We were not created for such futility but fell into futility and death.
Then we come to this morning’s text from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Does it teach us that we are dust in the wind? If read at the literal level, it is certainly as depressing as any of the secular examples I’ve cited. The book seems to wander around in circles. It is fixated upon death. The Hebrew word, Hevel, which is translated “vanity” in the King James Version occurs again and again in the book. This word bears the meaning “futility”, “vapor”, “breath”, or even “dust”.
We as Christians as well as the Hebrews included this book in their canon of Scripture. Why would this book which seems on the surface to be so contrary to the rest of Scripture be included? Was it because they believe that Solomon was the author? Whereas the book seems to be about Solomon, it is questionable that he wrote it. At least this is the conclusion of most scholars. I do think that he could have wrote it. What I can say about the author is that he was brilliant.
Some, take Luther for example, “Christianized” the book. He like many others have tried to tone down the harshness of the message. I feel in doing this, they are correcting Ecclesiastes rather than translating it. I think that it is a depressing as it sounds. The resolution to the book occurs at the end in which it finds its harmony with the rest of Scripture. The message of the preacher begins with the conclusion to the philosophers’ search to the meaning of life. If one starts with man, then man who is mortal and troubled cannot but come up with the conclusion that everything is “vanity of vanities, all is vanity”.
The Greek philosophers who started with such hope to find a meaningful purpose and unity to life by trying to define the “all”. One said, “All is water”. Another said, “All is air”. A third philosopher said “All is static”. Yet another, “All is flux”. A fifth said, “All is unable to be determined”. These philosophers were all brilliant, but their definitions of “all” all contradicted one another. Even Aristotle, one of the greatest tried to find the unifying principle or God by a process called “remotion”. He did find the first cause. But Aristotle’s god is an infinite emptiness. In other words, his search for God resulted in vanity. All human philosophies which start with man and carried forth to their logical conclusion results in emptiness. This is why Paul can say in 1 Corinthians that for all man’s wisdom, they utterly failed to find God. They all wandered in the wilderness of desolation and died without finding the Promised Land. They had as Ecclesiastes notes, “Chased after the wind.”