Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-19, 22-23 - Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. ... I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. ... I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. ... 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. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
It might seem odd, but Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books. I think that's because the author gives us such a clear, uncompromising picture of what life is like apart from the grace of God. He focuses like a laser on life "under the sun"—the ordinary round of activities that everyone can see, and see the result of, whether they believe in God or not.
And it's not a very happy picture. The author is wise and powerful, a king in Jerusalem. He has money, fame, power. He works hard on any number of projects, but he can never get it out of his head that someday he will die. And when that happens, who will get it all?
The writer of Ecclesiastes is traditionally believed to be King Solomon. If this is true, Solomon was right to worry. His son Rehoboam was the next king—and he was a man so foolish that he split his country in two.
There's a problem with being very smart. It makes it very difficult to lie to yourself. Oh, you can start the lie, but before it's properly out of your mouth, you can see that it's not true. Your wisdom leads to great unhappiness. And so it is with the author of Ecclesiastes.
After several chapters of searching for meaning in everything under the sun, the author of Ecclesiastes is forced to look above the sun—to God. He is the only One who can give our lives real meaning, because He is the only One who lasts forever. If our work matters to God—if we matter to God—then we have value. If not, it is all a waste.
We are more fortunate than the author of Ecclesiastes, because we know what he did not—that God has valued us so much that He sent His own Son Jesus into this world to rescue us from our meaningless lives. If we belong to Jesus our Savior, who lived and died and rose again to make us God's children, then our lives have value. If the Holy Spirit is working through us, even our failures turn to blessings.
That is where we find our permanence and our meaning—in the God who made us, redeemed us, and will value us forever.
WE PRAY: Lord Holy Spirit, when I am tempted to despair, give me hope and trust in You. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
1. When are you most tempted to declare life meaningless?
2. What is one of your failures that God has brought good out of?
3. Is the cross an example of failure or success? Why do you think so?
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