"Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun."
One of the reasons that I love Ecclesiastes is because it is so brutally honest. Here's a guy who had it all. All we really know about him is his name, Qoheleth, meaning "Gatherer," maybe because he was gathering the people of God to hear a story about how things look from the secular vantage point under the sun. Jewish tradition says that it's Solomon, but we just don't know. We do know that whoever it is he tried wisdom, he read every book he could get his hands on, to find the meaning of life. He tried partying, wine, women, and song. He poured himself into work and that didn't work. Really reminds you of the way things look from a purely secular perspective. In the 1938 novel Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre Roquentin who seems to have had it all and then he concludes life is meaningless. It's boring and not worth living.
But people feel it all the time. The key phrase is "under the sun." God leaves a breadcrumb trail of gifts leading us to him. He's the giver. He wants us to find our delight in him and he gives us all of these gifts. He's so liberal but the thing is we go around trying to fill this God-shaped hole with all the gifts and they just don't fit and we turn them into idols, we turn the gifts into the giver. Try to replace the gifts of the giver with his gifts and that's why Qoheleth says that all is vanity under the sun. We got to look above the sun to God to see these things, not as ends in themselves, work is not an end in itself, pleasure is not an end in itself, family isn't an end in itself, even wisdom and religion, they're not ends in themselves. God is the only end worthy of being the ultimate end of our whole existence and when we look up to God in faith then even the flowers look more beautiful when we wake up in the morning. You get everything in the bargain.
In Luke 24, the risen Christ is walking along the road with the two disciples and they were kept from recognizing him and he asked them why they were so depressed, and they said, “Are you the only one who doesn't know what happened? Jesus of Nazareth, courted by miracles and great wisdom, he was just crucified and it's been three days and he's still not around. We thought he, maybe, was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” You and I might say, well, I thought he was the one who was going to do x, I thought he was the one who was going to give me a better family, I thought he was the one who was going to fix my life, I thought he was the one to get me off drugs, I thought he was the one to...etc. And Jesus said, “‘Did you not know that the Messiah had to be crucified and then would be raised? That's what the prophets foretold. And then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he showed himself in all the scriptures. And they said to each other, ‘Didn't our hearts burn within us as he opened the scriptures?’” (Lk. 24:13-35).
We can be walking along that lonely road thinking, “Well, God hasn't solved my problems. Where is he now, where is where is Jesus for me?” And at the end of the day, really, we not only need better answers, but we also need better questions. The Bible not only gives us the answers, but it also gives us the questions. We don't even know what to worship and what worship is. That's one of the great things about the book of Ecclesiastes. It frames up why we need a new set of eyeglasses to look at the world differently, not just from under the sun, but from God's perspective.
Adapted from an answer given on Episode 71 of the Core Christianity Radio Show.