Summary: People admit they live restless lives, yet they don’t know why. No one can discover meaning in life...if God’s wisdom is rejected. If truth is unattainable under the sun, our only hope must be above it.
Overcoming Futility—a Sermon Series on Ecclesiastes
“Lies We Live By” -chapter 8 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
How are we to make sense of this chapter? Let’s frame it: Look at verse one, then the last few verses, 16-17. Chapter 8 begins and ends with statements underlining the futility of finding wisdom apart from God. Few people arrive at wisdom; few can interpret life accurately. Verse one is a rhetorical question. Solomon is speaking as an agnostic, from the perspective of one who believes we live in a meaningless world, a world without God and truth. He offers in chapter 8 five lies people without God live by. The chapter ends by concluding, “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun.” People admit they live restless lives, yet they don’t know why. No one can discover meaning in life...if God’s wisdom is rejected.
Now that we’ve framed the chapter, let’s outline it. Here are the 5 lies:
1. Truth is unattainable—verses 1 & 16-17
2. Appease those in power—verses 2-6
3. The future is unknown—verses 7-8
4. Life is unjust—verses 9-14
5. Enjoy life—verse 15
Solomon was hardly sheltered in his palace; he had ample opportunities to experience life. He rarely said “no” to himself; he indulged every impulse, devoted to the “pursuit of happiness”. He found that he was “chasing after the wind” (1:14). Solomon discovered how worthless his lifestyle was. His earth-bound goals were meaningless. He saw his world evaporating into insignificance, because he was trusting in 5 lies...
#1. Truth is unattainable (1, 16-17)
This lie we’ve covered; it’s the framework that holds the entire chapter together and offers the worldview of people without God and without hope.
#2. Appease those in power (2-6)
These verses address the relationship between leaders and their advisors. Wisdom is often seen in restraint, by having something to say and not saying it, or in the case of appeasing people in authority, not telling them what they don’t want to hear. Not all leaders are approachable. I’ve worked for Army commanders who wouldn’t listen to their staff officers. Some advisors are “yes men” because they’re expected to be. Kings can be stubborn; Solomon should know. Government has the power to compel compliance. For this reason, Will Rogers remarked, “We ought to be grateful we don’t get as much government as we’ve paid for.”
In a study of leadership styles (LIFO/Stuart Atkins), an adjustment to the “Golden Rule” was offered: “Do unto others as they’d like it done unto them.” We should speak the truth in love, while following company rules. I’ve found that success is learning what my boss wants and giving it to him/her, but there comes a time when we have to stand for what is right and say so. Following regulations isn’t always convenient, particularly in a bureaucracy. If we’re told to do something unethical, we may need to offer alternatives, give God time to change our boss’s mind, and ultimately take the consequences of refusing to do something wrong.
#3. The future is unknown (7-8)
These verses point out the futility of trying to predict the future. Futurists are people who foresee potential advances in technology or social movements. Books like Future Shock (Toffler) anticipate trends in politics and map out global strategies. In the 1800s futurists were certain that railroads wouldn’t replace stagecoaches, that heart and brain surgery were impossible, that space travel was ridiculous, and in the early 1900s an IBM chairman predicted a world market for about 5 computers!
For those of you who’ve been to Disney World, Tomorrowland attempts to show how the world of tomorrow may appear. It’s all speculation. Tomorrowland was originally designed to convey Disney’s vision of the future. The only trouble with futuristic views is that they need frequent updating. In 1994, Disney gave up and began renovations to have Tomorrowland resemble a retro look at the future, as it was seen by the Science Fiction writers of the 1920’s and 30’s. Perhaps that’s a safer bet. The newly renovated Tomorrowland reopened in 1995 and was billed as “the Future that Never Was.”
One thing no one can foresee is when they will die. “No one has power over the day of their death,” verse 8. The New Living Translation renders verse 8, “There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle.” When I served in Iraq (Desert Storm), I figured I had a good chance of getting killed, either by enemy fire or Gulf War Syndrome. One thing I knew for certain: my life was not in my hands.
Bereaved people have many questions about death:
“Why did this have to happen?”
“What did I do wrong?”
“When will my pain stop?”
“Where can I find answers?”
“What do I do now?”
For Christians, death is not simply a biological inevitability. Death is not the worst that can happen. Peter Kreeft writes that death is “God tucking us in at bedtime so that we can rise to new life in the morning.”