The Meaning of Life
What's the meaning of life? What in this life is worth pursuing? These are questions that perhaps every human has wondered at some point, and these are questions probed by Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Solomon is a strange kind of guy. On one hand, he had more wisdom than any human has ever had. On the other hand, he indulged every desire he ever wanted. At the time he was reflecting on the meaning of life, he was backslidden: he was swayed by his foreign wives to worship foreign gods. And yet, even his sin, Solomon retained the capacity to evaluate the world.
We, of course, don't have that capacity: sin distorts our ability to perceive reality. The author of Hebrews writes:
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13).
Here's why sin is deceitful:
- it overpromises and underdelivers
- it distorts our perception of reality
- it hardens our hearts to God's truth
Because of his wisdom gift, Solomon was able to live in disobedience to God and to evaluate it. Thus, he was able to reach an unhappy but honest verdict on life without God:
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? Ecclesiastes 1:2-3
The word 'vanity' is the translation of a Hebrew word that means emptiness, breath, nothing, delusion. What areas of life, when lived without God, are empty? Solomon's answer: everything:
For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! Ecclesiastes 2:16
What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Ecclesiastes 2:22-23
And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep fromvthem … Then I considered all that my hands had donevand the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, allvwas vanity and a striving after wind, and there wasvnothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:11
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Ecclesiastes 5:10-12
Solomon is not saying that all these things are bad; work, for example, is good and is commanded in scripture. but without God, what does it accomplish? The worker dies and no one remembers him; his life is left
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Even though life lived without God is vanity, life is not empty if it is lived for God's glory. That is, our lives are defined by their pursuit: if we pursue temporal things (money, power, fame), our lives are marked by a deep lack of satisfaction. If we pursue eternal things - the one eternal thing - God himself - our lives will be marked by eternal significance.
David says it like this in Psalm 27:4:
One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.