Have you ever had the feeling that life is empty? You know those days, sometimes weeks, when everything you do seems to place you no closer to the finish than when you started. School seems to drag on and on, that song you're practicing just won't come, Scripture is boring, and your whole life just feels empty and pointless: know what I'm talking about?
One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. (Yeah, I'm pretty weird.) Ecc. 1 articulates Solomon's own similar feelings, only on a larger scale than what I wrote above. Solomon states in v. 2-4, "'Vanity of vanities', sayeth the preacher, 'vanity of vanities; all is vanity!' What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun. One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth remaineth forever."
One of the reasons I enjoy reading Ecclesiastes is Solomon's brutal honesty throughout the whole book. I've heard maybe two people in my whole life admit to feelings like this. I think many Christians (and I'm guilty too) spend a lot of time pretending to be deeper, more spiritual than they really are, to impress each other as to their spiritual depth. I try not to do that on this blog, which is why I will tell you now I've had the same feelings Solomon writes about.
There are days that life just feels empty, as if there was no point to life at all. Paraphrasing Solomon, man works and works for no apparent profit, only to die and be replaced with another man, who will repeat the cycle. Solomon offers several vivid word pictures to symbolize what he means.
His first picture is that of the sun rising, then setting, then rising and setting again: day after day, month after month, year after year. Outwardly, it seems to be no closer to a restful conclusion of its mission than the beginning of time. The wind, blowing constantly, once again, seemingly no closer to accomplishing its purpose than when it was created.
Rivers run to the sea forever, with no break in their incessant flow. Yet the sea will never be full. Their labor is seemingly pointless; a never-ending, fruitless pursuit of nothingness. Lastly, Solomon uses the idea of the human eye and ear. Always seeing, always wanting more; no closer to satisfaction now than at our births.
Kind of depressing, isn't it? Solomon vividly describes the hopelessness of normal human life and pursuit of greatness. Solomon, the wisest and wealthiest man that ever lived, voiced one of the most pessimistic reminders of man's frail, momentary life on earth I've ever heard. Solomon, sitting in the midst of plenty, surrounded by all the thing's men say are necessary for happiness (2:10), still sits just as convinced of the vanity of life.
One of the phrases Solomon uses throughout the entire book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most vivid I've ever read. The KJV translation doesn't use the phrase, but I will be quoting the following verses from the ESV. I think the phrase gives you the most accurate portrayal of Solomon's feelings over any other passage I could quote from Ecclesiastes.
Found in Ecc. 1:14 and 2:17,26. "Striving after wind." Just think about the phrase. Following earthly pleasures and greatness is like chasing the wind. It's such a great allegory on several points. One, you will never catch the wind; its very sporatic nature will keep it forever out of your hands. Two, even if you do catch it, it is nothing. You can't grab it; you can't hold on to it; it is literally nothing.
This is what Solomon, the ruler of all the grandeur of the old Jerusalem, proclaims human greatness to be, simply a chasing after wind, that when finally caught, is found to be empty, vain, and nothing. Depressing, huh?
So, what is the conclusion? What does all this pessimism build up to? The second to last verse of the book (12:13) answers the question, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."
The whole duty of man is to love God and obey him. That's the whole point of man's very existence. The only thing worth doing, the only thing that will last, the only thing worthy of hot pursuit in our lives is this: love God, and obey his commandments.
It's very easy to put stock of our own worth in awards we've won or accomplishments we've made. Afterward though, it's empty. It's vain. It's pointless. One hundred years from now, no one will remember who won Nationals or an art competition. One hundred years from now, no one will remember who won the World Series or the Super Bowl.
One hundred years from now, every single soul alive on this planet today will either be singing praises to the Lamb in heaven or burning for eternity in hell. As Solomon said, suddenly the accomplishments and awards of everyday life seem empty, don't they?
Our one duty, our one calling in life, is to love God, and obey his commandments. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yeah, it's true that no one will give you a medal for it. Nobody will send a four-foot trophy or a million dollar check to your front door. But 100 years from now, standing before Jesus, or standing in hell, medals, trophies, and checks will seem awfully small; awfully, unimportant; awfully empty.
Now, I'm off to enjoy this beautiful, Texas day in a kayak, fishing!