Summary: Introduction to a series through Ecclesiastes on the purpose of life.
The Purpose of Life
- Teenagers have a word for it: Whatever.
- College Students take classes about it, using big words to describe it: existentialism.
- Adults call it a midlife crisis.
All people are on a quest for the purpose in life, and many have concluded that there is none, that it is all hopeless, and what there is what there. Billy Crystal in City Slickers describes it to a T as he stands before a kindergarten class right before he enters his own midlife crisis:
“Value this time in your life, kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices. It goes by fast. When you’re a teenager, you think you can do anything and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Thirties you raise your family, you make a little money, and you think to yourself, ‘What happened to my twenties?’ Forties, you grow a little potbelly, you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud; one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Fifties, you have a minor surgery -- you’ll call it a procedure, but it’s a surgery. Sixties, you’ll have a major surgery, the music is still loud, but it doesn’t matter because you can’t hear it anyway. Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale. You start eating dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon, you have lunch around 10:00, breakfast the night before, spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate soft yogurt and muttering, ‘How come the kids don’t call? How come the kids don’t call?’ The eighties, you’ll have a major stroke, and you end up babbling with some Jamaican nurse who your wife can’t stand, but who you call mama. Any questions?”
Now, we might think that such a pessimistic view of things has no place in our lives, let alone in church, but I want to tell you – it not only has a place in church, it has a place in the Bible – the book of Ecclesiastes.
- Since Ecclesiastes is one of those biblical books of mystery, let’s look at the first couple of verses to learn some of the basics about this book.
- The Elements of Ecclesiastes:
o Author: “The Teacher”
• Some translations call him the Preacher, or the Seeker. The word means “one who calls together a group to address them.” And that is exactly what he is doing in this book – he is sharing with the Israelites, and all of us, his experiences and insights. He has much to teach us, and so we gather around him to learn.
• But who exactly is he?
• A Man Resembling Solomon
• The traditional position is that this man is Solomon. He is identified as son of David and king in Jerusalem in verse 1. Solomon certainly fits that description.
• Solomon was also a man of unsurpassed wisdom, and the Teacher repeatedly draws on his wisdom throughout Ecclesiastes.
• And Solomon was also a man who – though full of wisdom – did not always make the wisest choices, and the Teacher will describe for us throughout Ecclesiastes his dabbling in unwise things.
• It could be, however, that Ecclesiastes was written by someone in accordance with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit with Solomon in mind.
o Phillip Yancey describes it like a play being written from the perspective of a president who is forced to resign under the threat of impeachment. The playwright would not have to use the name Richard Nixon for everyone to know who he was talking about.
• Regardless, Solomon’s shadow is cast ominously over Ecclesiastes. But, he calls himself the Teacher, and so, that is what we will call him.
o Key Words / Phrases:
• Meaningless – 35 times
• Literally, it comes from the word that means breath. It refers to things that are fleeting, transient, futile. One translation uses the word “smoke.” It’s here, you can see it, but in a moment it is gone.
• Under the Sun – 29 times
• The Teacher’s primary concern is the things that happen here on earth. He is concerned about events in life from a human perspective. He does not bother himself in this discussion with what happens above the sun – in heaven. He repeats his hauntingly vivid phrase throughout the book.
• From a human perspective, life is futile and fleeting.
• This is existentialism at its best – why are we here? What is the meaning? Can there be anything in life that gives it purpose and groundings and an anchor? Is this all there is? Is this as good as it gets? And the Teacher says, “Under the sun, it’s meaningless. From a human perspective, life is futile and fleeting.”