Life: An Exercise in Futility? – Ecclesiastes 1:2-3; 6:17

exercise-in-futility“Everything is futile. What does a man gain for all his efforts that he labors at under the sun… For who knows what is good for man in life, in the few days of his futile life that he spends like a shadow? Who can tell man what will happen after him under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3; 6:17, HCSB).

It seems like the writer of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself the Teacher and is probably Solomon, had a jaundiced, even cynical outlook on life.

Solomon, whose God-given intelligence helped him become one of the wisest and richest people who ever lived, probably considered life and the universe much more in-depth than do most of us.

Now, I find some comfort in being average. In fact, I like to claim the following  proverb as  justification for my own average-ness: : “Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9).

Lord, just help me to be average; it allows me to stay safe and secure in my comfort zone!

Yet, we average folks really need to ponder what the wise Teacher has figured out about life in this universe and is trying to reveal to us less knowledgeable ones.

First, consider what the Teacher meant by the word “futility.” The Hebrew word for futility, hevel, may originate in the sound of breath. (Say it out loud, accent on the first syllable, and you will see what I mean.)

But hevel does not mean that something is altogether worthless, only that it has a transitory or fleeting value (like breath or the wind).

Then according to the Teacher, everything in this universe as we know it is ephemeral; it’s passing away.

Because of this transient nature of the universe, the Teacher recognized that our destiny is not achieved or fulfilled in this impermanent world but in the everlasting eternity where God resides: “I have seen the task that God has given people to keep them occupied. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end.  (vs. 3:10-11).

Although it seems the Teacher is questioning if life and what you do in life has any meaning, I think what the Teacher is really saying is that only God gives life meaning!  It‘s what we are becoming with regard to eternity that makes our life in this world meaningful!

I know that all God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of Him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14, HCSB).

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