Ecclesiastes can be a very depressing book. At times it feels more like Nietzsche than Jesus. It feels more like nihilism than Christianity; more like existentialism than living for God. It’s confusing; very difficult to understand at times. Other times, the point is very clear.
The whole book can make your head spin. It’s enigmatic, living comfortably in the paradox of meaninglessness and purpose. Ecclesiastes is not just a book about life, it’s a book that mimics life. It’s a book that makes me think of a quote from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” That’s true of life, and it’s true of Ecclesiastes.
The book opens up with a poem that sounds like it has no business being in the Bible:
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
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.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them. (1:4-11)
Have you ever had one of those days? A day when everything seems wearisome? A day when Murphy can’t leave well enough alone? A day when you just can’t see the point in it all?
If you answered “Yes” to any of the above, then you are a lousy Christian and need to repent, immediately…
Actually, it means that you are not immune to the disease called “life.” It means you are not above your own humanity. It means…you’re normal. We all get stuck in ruts. We all have our valleys and deserts to cross. Life is one big roller coaster that never comes to that jerking halt – which is just what you need when your head is spinning from having blacked out on the double loop…
The question is: Is this poem an observation of the way things are? or a description of how things are supposed to be?
Notice what is missing from the poem. It talks about the creation but not the Creator. It talks about mankind but not the One whose image we bear. It talks about history but not the One who created time itself.
Fortunately, we know what the end of the journey will bring. We know the end to which the author is working. God will not remain hidden behind the curtains forever. It may take 12 chapters full of twists and turns, ups and downs, but when all is said and done, one thing remains:
Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them” (12:1)
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil. (12:13-14)
Trying to find meaning in life apart from God is like being thirsty in the middle of the ocean. All that saltwater will never satisfy your thirst. But Ecclesiastes reminds us that we’re not that far from shore. Just past the shoreline is a freshwater spring. Come, drink, and really live.