Summary: The cause of human desolation is an unwillingness to believe, which takes God out of the picture. We are restless until we find our rest and purpose in God.
Overcoming Futility...A Sermon Series on Ecclesiastes
“Dust in the Wind,” chapter 2 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Back in the 70’s the classic rock band Kansas recorded a song that echoes the outlook of this chapter, “All we are is dust in the wind.” The music is beautiful but the lyrics are depressing: “All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see...nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky; it slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy.” We could call “Dust in the Wind” a hymn for people who believe in nothing, who’ve concluded that life has no purpose. Ecclesiastes points out that life apart from God is meaningless. Who could live in such a world? Who could endure such a gloomy outlook?
Solomon describes his efforts to escape life’s despair through pleasure and self-indulgence. In verses 3-9 he lists all the things he tried to make himself happy. He says in vs 10, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired.” Solomon fashioned an environment of pleasure, and in the process he discovered that pleasure is not the highest good. People try to escape reality, trying things that don’t truly meet their needs. The result of Solomon’s experiment? Escape through pleasure doesn’t work; at best it offers some temporary relief from the distress of life. There is a distinct lack of contentment among so many people. They’re determined to have fun, even if it kills them.
In verses 17-23 Solomon attempts to find meaning through work. He built up his kingdom, he worked hard, but it wasn’t enough. Can our jobs alone help us achieve meaning and purpose? We may make a living, but are we in touch with what life’s all about? Work often consumes and defines us. When we meet people, the first thing they’re apt to say is what they do for a living. “I am what I do.” If you could write your obituary, what accomplishments might you list? What would you be most proud of? What might Solomon say after reading it? Staying busy can distract us from thinking about life’s purpose, but eventually life catches up.
In verse 11 Solomon concedes that achieving greatness and power is futile: “When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Nothing was gained under the sun.” And what if we don’t attain all our career goals? What’s the true measure of our worth? A wealthy executive was told by an admirer, “You’re the richest man I know.” He replied, “Yes, but I’d trade it all for more.” Eventually he’ll be the richest man in the cemetery. There’s the old joke about a guy who was buried in his Cadillac. One of the mourners at the graveside was so impressed he said, “Now that’s living.” Some people reach the end of their days only to conclude, “So what?” They’ve been toiling without a sense of direction. Believers finish their days hoping to hear from Jesus the words: “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”
In San Jose, California is the Winchester Mystery House, a 160-room mansion built by an eccentric wealthy widow who just couldn’t stop building--she kept on for 38 years. The house goes on and on, a maze of rooms with doors that open to blank walls and 40 staircases, some that go nowhere. The house is a monument to compulsive meaninglessness. While living in Bavaria we visited Neuschwanstein, a magnificent castle built by King Ludwig II, the most popular castle in Germany. It sits atop a mountain overlooking the countryside and looks like something out of a fairy tale (it’s the castle that was copied for Disneyland). Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances just a few months after Neuschwanstein was completed. He allegedly drowned--was it an accident, a suicide, or was he murdered? No one knows. He barely got to enjoy his castle, which became for him a tragic a monument to futility. Death, the ultimate reality, is here to remind us that we are mortal. No one gets off the planet alive.
King Solomon’s home took him 14 years to build, plus he built houses for his many wives. None of this brought him happiness; it all was at best a diversion. In verse 17 he admits, “I hated life.” His accomplishments weren’t enough. We can’t enjoy the things money can buy unless we possess the things money can’t buy.
The next time you’re at the local bookstore, walk by the philosophy section. You’ll see scores of volumes trying to explain life. The word “philosophy” means, “love of wisdom.” Colossians 2:8 warns, “do not be taken captive through empty and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.” Solomon (the wisest man who ever lived) is trying to show the worthlessness of any worldview that leaves God out of the picture. Philosophers are considered intellectuals, great thinkers...but if they reject God, all they’re left with is a handful of dust.