Ecclesiastes is perhaps my favorite book in the bible. What I like most about this book is that I identify with the frustration of the writer in seeking out principles in this life of enough value to build my life on and finding that nearly all those principles are lacking. There are many translations of Ecclesiastes that give different version of what the Hebrew word hebel is. Literally translated hebel means breath or vapour- over the years it has been translated many ways- vanity, absurd, pointless, meaningless – none of these words truly captures the transitory idea that is being talked about here. The idea is that everything is transitory, temporary, here today gone tomorrow, not substantial, without substance, not solid. The point of Ecclesiastes is not that everything is meaningless and without value, but that there is only one thing solid, permanent enough, and worthy to build your life on.
We all have grappled with this idea at some point- what is worth our time and energy, what is worth setting as most important over everything else. We come up with different answers, different ones at different times or maybe we do not even realize we are working through this same question. Right now happiness seems to be a popular consideration, how to be happy and how to live a happy life is the topic to many self help spnversations and happiness is very common idea of what we should use to gauge a good life. "Well are you happy?, that is all that matters." Happiness is nice, but happiness is a temporary state of enjoyment- it is not stable nor permanent. And when you are not happy there is somehow a sense that you need to do whatever it takes to get back to a happy state. But what if that is not really the entire point of life.
I know there are some people who suggest that the one thing that matters is money, and not just money as in greed- instead I am talking about those who see provision as the most important. The dependence on providing for themselves and those closest to them. It is not that this is somehow a disgraceful mindset, but I would suggest that it is unstable. Our ability to provide and the state of our bank accounts are transitory, they are not solid enough to place our faith in. Faith in provision and monetary dependence means our faith is in ourselves and not in God as the provider, this will leave us disappointed every time.
Another important thing I have seen people pour everything of themselves into- is relationships. Either romantic love or family, again I am not suggesting that there is no value in this. There is value in relationships and in family, but they are not stable, they are transitory. And depending on the family perhaps very unstable.
There are others to talk about but the last one I want to mention is that some place all their dependence on church, morals, or religion. I find this the toughest one of all, because close but misses the mark. There is something sacred to church and religion and there is value to following God’s wisdom, all those things are our actions to reach out towards God, it does not qualify as a valid substitute for God Himself. If we place all our energy and hope in church, or our ability to practice and enact our religious belief, we will be let down. Because our abilities are limited and our very selves are transitory, our faith needs to be placed in something more substantial than our own attempts to reach God.
After all that Solomon observed, after all the ways he lived, he concludes there is only one thing worth while. To worship God, most translations use fear God, amplified version is this.
13 When all has been heard, the end of the matter is: fear God [worship Him with awe-filled reverence, knowing that He is almighty God] and keep His commandments, for this applies to every person. The writer of Ecclesiastes concludes that nothing in this life is lasting or worthy of our dependence, the only thing of lasting value is to worship him with awe-filled reverence. (A point I feel sounds very close to Jesus’ answer in Matthew 22 when he is asked about the most important thing in life as well). Although this is an answer with some hope if the book simply ends here then it feels a little bleak.
A few years ago, when researching this book for a bible study here I was also at the stage of reading the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff book to my kids. (If you are not familiar with this story is a is a round story, where the ending of the book brings you right back to the beginning of the book and you can keep going through the story over and over without ever truly finding an end). And I noticed something like thisin the book of Ecclesiastes. The write does find meaning and value in enjoyment, (and in other chapters in hard work and relationships) but only find meaning in how that thing relates to God. So, what if Ecclesiastes is also meant to be read as a circular story. Go through first, everything in life is unsubstantial and not worthwhile building your life on, in fact the only meaning and stability found is in worshiping God and following his commands. But instead of ending there what if we are meant to go back to the beginning and suddenly meaning is found in all those other areas by bringing that value and stability of worshiping God into it. The true worthwhile and meaningful thing in life of worshiping God and following his will not only brings meaning to your life but brings meaning to all the other areas of life that you can have.
Meet the Pasotr
Pastor Heather and her family have been a part of the Cold Lake Community since December 2006 and she has been the pastor at Community Baptist Church since September 2017.