Finding meaning “under the sun” – Ecclesiastes 1-3

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Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 1-4.

I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive. Joseph Campbell

The meaning of life. Some people feel like there is no meaning, and that can lead to great despair. Solomon’s search for meaning led him to explore every facet of life, but in the end he decided he could find no point to life “under the sun.” He said everything was empty, vain, futile, and meaningless.

  • Meaningless repetition.What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”
  • Meaningless wisdom.  “Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
  • Meaningless pleasure.I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
  • Meaningless end.Then I thought in my heart, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said in my heart, “This too is meaningless.” For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!”
  • Meaningless work.For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?”

If the story ended there, then despair would be the natural reaction. Fortunately, there is an alternative to life “under the sun.”

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? Ecclesiastes 2:24-25

If we only live “under the sun,” horizontally, for this world and nothing more, then satisfaction will fly away. But if we live with the Son, in a vertical relationship with God that extends beyond time and space, we will find purpose and satisfaction in our work. Solomon goes on to say that there is a time and a season for everything “under heaven.” In relationship with God, the events of life don’t just repeat themselves vainly. They have an appointed time that fulfills God’s purpose. “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” The actions and decisions we take have another significance, for there is a time and season for every activity when God will judge them. The world won’t spin endlessly. The end will come, and with it the day when our actions will receive their due reward or condemnation.

Image by Daniel Parks on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

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5 thoughts on “Finding meaning “under the sun” – Ecclesiastes 1-3

  1. I like your contrast of living horizontally (focused on the world) vs living vertically (focused on God). It’s a reminder of where to ‘look’ for meaning. And things can certainly look meaningless when we see the world and see the ‘same old things’ – violence and oppression, man’s inhumanity to man, brokenness…it’s a good thing we can look up and remember another reality is also there. God’s reality. Thanks for the reminder.

    • I need to give Chuck Swindoll credit for that idea. He’s the first one I heard talk about horizontal living. His book, “Living on the Ragged Edge” is a great discussion of Ecclesiastes.

  2. “Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

    And who has the most knowledge? God. So who has the most sorrow? God. That sorrow is crystalized upon the cross. And not so much the sorrow of death on the cross, for what is death to an immortal, but sorrow that so perfect a gift could be rejected and despised by those He loved the most.

    • A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Isaiah 53

  3. Pingback: Daily Bible Devotional – Ecclesiastes 1-3 – Finding meaning “under the sun” | ChristianBlessings

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