Summary: Life apart from God is a death of fathomless despair. Life in Christ is an inextinguishable hope.
Nothing New Under the Sun?
The “Preacher” has just examined the course of “nature” and has come up with a pessimistic conclusion that everything is useless or meaningless. We as Christians who can see above the horizon of the sun to God who has made everything according to His eternal purpose. The rhythms of nature are God’s gift of grace for the sustenance of life on this planet. But instead of praising God for the gift of life itself, the Preacher concludes that everything is vanity and a chasing after the wind. Verses 5 through 7 show that even scientific observation of the universe will ultimately end in futility when God is removed from the thinking of men, in particular the God who is revealed as creator of all in Scripture. The world is building all kinds of particle colliders and spending astronomical amounts of money exploring the universe. But even one of their own, Stephen Hawken sees the universe as eternally expanding into nothingness. The other great thinkers of the world have come up with the same dismal conclusion.
The preacher picks up on his rant in verse 8. The rant began in verse two when the teaching of the Preacher is summed up that everything is useless and that everything one does is profitless and useless because death consumes him and rust his legacy. He only saw “nature” itself going one in wearying circles. What he saw reflected the emptiness that was within his own heart. He had a bad case of what we would call “going around in circles” or “stuck in a rut”. Others would call the preacher seriously depressed.
He does sound tired. In verse 8, he says that all work is nothing but weary labor. It almost sounds like the modern person who spends all of his life working to acquire stuff to enjoy without having any time or energy to enjoy that which he has accumulated. What makes the book of Ecclesiastes so valuable to study is that there is a timelessness about it. All of the new fads in thought or fashion have already happened, and everything we do will be repeated by a future generation.
This desire for individual significance is a universal one which has been affected by the fall of Adam and Eve. It is called by many names: “autonomy”, “self-respect”, “self-esteem”, “the ‘me’ generation”, “seeking for fifteen minutes of fame” and other such definitions. We all want to be original, that in some way we have contributed something unique to society. This desire for individual significance and purpose is expressed in many ways. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes had the means and leisure to try most of these means. But he is not a man who is very close to the heart of God. He only addresses God by the generic name Elohim in Hebrew and never by the covenant name of Yahweh (Jehovah). The God he presents is distant, arbitrary, and uncaring for the most part. This view is similar to that of a group of people who called themselves “Deists” who thought God created the universe and its laws, but was not providentially and personally involved in it.
We see this desire for individually in many ways. In academics, one has to provide original research and approaches in a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. Hollywood stars vie for attention by seeing who can be the most debauched. Others seek it by going “postal” and maiming and killing others. The thing is, though, that none of these approaches for attention are new. In the very attempt to express individuality, they have only copycatted the works of others. How depressing is that for the person who wants to be something!
The desire for self-fulfillment, to be a god in one’s self puts man on a wild goose chase. The preacher says that one will never be satisfies in what he sees or hears. No matter how much they see, hear, or have, they want more. They are ever striving to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But as fast as they progress toward the rainbow, it recedes before them and eventually dissolves into nothingness. This so characterizes the restless world we find ourselves in today.
The ancient Greeks had some of the most penetrating minds who ever lived. With their minds they tried to get to the core of all reality. They searched after their own Higg’s Boson, the god particle which physicists seek after, a god without any content and meaning which was supposed to explain everything. They attempted to find the unity behind all existence. This unity was best expressed by the greatest of the Greek philosophers, Aristotle. He finally found a god called the “unmoved mover” or “thought thinking itself” which was the first cause of all things. Aristotle came to this conclusion by trying to find what any two things in common. For example, a cow and a pig are both mammals, a mammal and a bird were both animals, an animal and a plant were both living, and living things and inanimate objects exist. What is the final comparison? They are the things that exist and those that do not. What do they have in common? Nothing. But nothing is not nothing. It is something because we can describe it. This unifying principle then, which he calls “God” is nothing but the null set in mathematics, not the God of the Bible. In other words, Aristotle’s god is meaningless. All attempts to find meaning in life without God who is the creator of all, sustainer of all, and redeemer is doomed to Aristotle’s meaningless existence.