Vanity of Vanites
On Wednesday nights, I am preaching through the book of Ecclesiastes (come and join us!), and I’m enjoying the series. I’ve been preparing to preach through this book for a few months, and studying it for years. Once you think you’ve got a handle on it, it’s almost like it slips through your fingers. If you’ve ever read the book (or even not), you’ve probably heard the phrase “vanity of vanities.” Life is vanity; it’s like trying to catch and save the wind for later. It’s frustrating, perplexing, confusing, temporary, and sometimes feels like there is no point. But it’s not a cynical book of nihilism, as some think it to be. It’s a book that can help you live with joy.
The book has two main characters, the narrator, who opens the book and closes it out. He introduces us abruptly to the other character, the preacher. The preacher was king in Jerusalem and was a sagacious man. He tells us that life is vanity. What’s the point of working when you can’t make any progress? The world isn’t much different than it ever has been, and there isn’t anything new under the sun. Even if you do work, you make money to give it away to someone else, and who knows if the person who gets your stuff will be wise with it or a fool. He tried to find meaning and satisfaction through wisdom and education, but the more he learned, the more of a burden life became to him. Knowing the world is crooked, and there isn’t much you can do about it is depressing. Laughter and pleasures are pleasant, but it doesn’t last long. Possessions and money are nice, but you can never get enough, and when you get the stuff you want, it becomes a burden to keep and take care of anyway. And if you live a wise life, save your money, work hard, raise your family, and do all the things you are supposed to do, you still are going to die, just like the fool who hasn’t worked a day in his life and has lived off handouts and nothing but trouble and a burden to society. The graveyard is full of wise men and fools. Solomon thought about that and hated life.
Ecclesiastes shows you that this world is cursed because of sin. Even the good things we have can bring us sorrow and pain. But this puts things in the right perspective for us. We shouldn’t expect heaven on earth. We shouldn’t try to have ultimate joy and satisfaction in temporary things in a sin-cursed world but in Christ the Lord. We should rejoice and be glad of all that God gives us, for these things are from the hand of God. Loving the gifts rather than the Giver is a recipe for an unfulfilled and frustrating life, and it turns blessings from God into idols. Ecclesiastes shows us that idolatry is vain, but life in Christ is joy.