Ecclesiastes 1:1-3. The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
Do you remember the beginning of Disney’s movie “The Lion King?” The song The Circle of Life immediately draws us in, reminding us of our place in the life and death cycle that we are all a part of. We’re here, and then we’re no longer here. “From the day we arrive on the planet” we enter the “endless round.” The book of Ecclesiastes begins with this same soundtrack. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.
The word vanity in Hebrew (hebel) means “breath,” or “vapor.” The Teacher is not talking about being proud, he’s talking about the fleeting nature of life. Life is transient. And so the big question of Ecclesiastes becomes “can such a fleeting life have any meaning?” If Proverbs says, “pursue wisdom so you can have a better life,” Ecclesiastes asks “why, what’s the point?”
The Teacher (Ecclesiastes’ narrator) takes us on a journey in search of the meaning of life. Many equate him with King Solomon. The King tried to find meaning in wisdom, pleasure, work, money, and family. But none of it satisfied him. He had it all, but nothing could bring purpose to his life. Why? Because it was all under the sun. It was temporal. It wasn’t eternal. It was vapor. It always ran out in the end.
Most people live their lives placing all their hope in these same temporal, fleeting, vaporous realities. As the threats of this uncertain world loom over us, what do we turn to for certainty, for hope and peace? What are we hoarding in order to feel safe? What are we chasing in order to find peace? How are you trying to “find your place in the path unwinding” (Lion King)? And isn’t it all just vanity of vanities?
Sadly, as Christians we still choose to live this same way. Facing our own vaporous mortality doesn’t just bring a fear of death, it brings a fear of living. We live in fear of losing the experience of this life. And so we fight to find, or even create, experiences of meaning in this mortal life. And when we find even the slightest glimpse of purpose we hold on tight. But deep inside we’re asking the same question as the Teacher – What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
So let me ask, how do you face the reality of death? How are you facing your own mortality? What have you chased after to give your life meaning or value? Did it last? Have you reached the point of admitting the futility of everything under the sun?
If you have, then you are ready to move forward into the deeper wisdom of God that is found in Christ. Ecclesiastes offers us the necessary step that we all must take in admitting that life is fleeting, that it is a mere breath.
But if you have Christ, then your life will never be meaningless again. It will never be vanity of vanities. It will never be merely under the sun. Why? Because on the cross Jesus allowed his life to be hebel. To be just a breath. For six hours that Good Friday his life was made meaningless. All the good toil that he had done under the sun wiped out in the darkness. All of it forsaken by God. Like Abel (whose name is hebel) before him, the life of the righteous one cut short by the wickedness of the world. Everything good wiped out by evil.
But then came Easter Sunday.
The eternal life of the Son, restored to him by the Father and the Spirit, penetrated the nothingness of death, and the futility of life. Christ’s glorious resurrection forever made life meaningful. Vanity destroyed by eternity. The fleeting breath of hebel replaced with the forever breath of the Spirit of God inside of all who would receive it. The circle of life ending in a rebirth unto glory and grace as the new creation emerges in us for all to see.
“To live is Christ” means our life now has ultimate meaning, and that meaning is Jesus Christ and his glory forever displayed in our love. Now everything we do under the sun, no matter how big or how small, has eternal significance.
1 Corinthians 15:58. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
How have you faced the reality of your mortality? Avoid it? Cling to temporary things?
You in Christ
How has your union with Christ given your life meaning and hope?
Christ in you
How does Christ in you end futility and give meaning now to everything you do?
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