Ecclesiastes 1 So Vain

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Questions: What is worth pursuing? Is anything? Why do we bother? Are we fools? Are the wise any better off?

“Read More” to pursue answers from Ecclesiastes.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-18

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Yeah, I know I promised you Daniel last Monday, but this turned out to be a rather rough week. Under the circumstances, it seemed more appropriate that I turn instead to Ecclesiastes, as I often during did my angst-ridden adolescence. 🙂

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all [is] vanity.

Vanity, meaningless, pointless, to no purpose, smoke and mirrors — however you translate it, the Preacher is obviously severely bummed out about, well, everything. Starting with work:

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

Some might argue that the benefit of work is providing for our family, particularly our offspring. However, I suspect the Preacher wouldn’t buy that, either:

One] generation passeth away, and [another] generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever

In fact, the very continuity of natural things seems a major source of his frustration:

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea [is] not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

The implication seems to be that that man, like nature, works very hard just to run in circles! Even the pursuit of novelty is doomed to get old:

All things [are] full of labour; man cannot utter [it]: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun. Is there [any] thing whereof it may be said, See, this [is] new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

Even here in the world capital of innovation, I fear it is true that those who lust most after novelty are the first to burn out and become cynical. The same with those driven by fame:

There is] no remembrance of former [things]; neither shall there be [any] remembrance of [things] that are to come with [those] that shall come after.

So who is this guy to so blithely dismiss the ancient values of hard work, family, curiosity, and honor?

I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.

Now, I’m not one to get hung up on whether this was written by Solomon himself or a cunning biographer. To me, it is self-evident that this was written by someone who had thought deeply upon the experience of life — and found it wanting:

And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all [things] that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all [is] vanity and vexation of spirit.

Why? Because the world is broken, and cannot be fixed:

That which is] crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.

No matter how much wisdom and knowledge we gather:

I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all [they] that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

In fact, that merely accentuates our helplessness:

And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom [is] much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

Now, I can readily see why many people consider this book something of a downer! But, perhaps perversely, I’ve always found this oddly comforting. It has the refreshing clarity of a slap on the face, of finally ripping the bandaid off the messy wound. It stings, but at least we can see clearly.

And once our eyes are opened, perhaps we have a shot at true hope.

Prayer

God, thank for The Preacher, and his brutally honest portrayal of life under the sun. Father, open my eyes to all the false illusions I worship so fervently. Grant me the courage to die to all the worthless things I once held dear. Teach me what is true, right, and good — and alone worthy of my devotion. Show me your face, O My Lord. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is in honor of Carly Simon.

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