Bible Focus: Ecclesiastes
I have seen the task that God has given the children of Adam to keep them occupied. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but no one can discover the work God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts.Ecclesiastes 3:10-13 CSB
Before I was born, my mom acquired a full set of the World Book Encyclopedia. Those books sat for years on the built-in bookshelves in her dining room. Growing up, I would often reach for one of those volumes when I had a question about a nation, famous person, historical event, or worldview.
As I learned to write research papers, I would compare those World Book articles with other resources collected from my school or local library. Research seemed to take forever, and no matter how many sources I found, I knew there was always more information out there.
Today we have these incredible devices that give us access to more information in less time then I ever could have dreamed as a kid. Yet the speed of information hasn’t diminished the reality that no matter how much we learn, there is always much more that we could learn.
But at some point, despite our incomplete knowledge, we all face major questions about the meaning of life. The World Book Encyclopedia won’t answer those questions, and neither will our favorite digital assistant. There is no agreed-upon answer to the meaning of life. We have to choose who to trust.
The writer of Ecclesiastes is never named in the biblical text, but I have no doubt he was King Solomon. He is identified as a son of David, king in Jerusalem, with enormous wealth and wisdom. Solomon was given wisdom and wealth that was unmatched by any other kingdom of his time (1 Kings 10). For most of his reign, Solomon enjoyed peace inside his own kingdom and peace with neighboring kingdoms. He was uniquely positioned to pursue any dream he wished.
So he decided to try everything, immersing himself in a search for the ultimate meaning of life. He gained knowledge. He dove into his work. He gave himself every pleasure he wanted. He racked up great accomplishments. At times, he even played the fool.
Along the way, he came to some helpful conclusions: wisdom was better than folly, righteousness was better than wickedness, work was better than laziness, and cheerfulness was better than worry. But he found that nothing in life satisfied him completely, and no matter how much he accomplished or how much fun he experienced, he knew that death still awaited him. He had no clear view of what lay beyond it.
For the fate of the children of Adam and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath. People have no advantage over animals since everything is futile. All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust. Who knows if the spirits of the children of Adam go upward and the spirits of animals go downward to the earth? I have seen that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities because that is his reward. For who can enable him to see what will happen after he dies?Ecclesiastes 3:19-22 CSB
However, he did arrive at this overarching decision: ultimate meaning, purpose, and happiness must come from God. He deduced that if everything comes from God, then God grants us every enjoyment we have. He concluded that we should honor God and seek to please God, because God will judge sin and reward those who are pleasing to him.
There is nothing better for a person than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God’s hand, because who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from him? For to the person who is pleasing in his sight, he gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and accumulating in order to give to the one who is pleasing in God’s sight. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, 12:13-14 CSB
Here’s the good news: Jesus gives us all the answers that the writer of Ecclesiastes could not. Jesus suffered God’s judgment for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to suffer that judgment ourselves. When we trust in Jesus, he forgives us our sin, makes us pleasing in God’s sight, and gives us eternal life with him. And whether we realize it or not, living together with God–now and forever–is where we find the real meaning of life.
Featured image from Daniel Olah on Unsplash.
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