The Desperate Search for Meaning IV: Vanity

Continuing with yesterday’s churchy theme, today’s post deals with a sermon my pastor gave Sunday morning.  Pastor Monday (yep, that’s his name) gave an interesting sermon on one of my favorite books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes is a unique book in that it is a philosophical treatise.  That’s not to say the rest of the Bible is devoid of philosophy—far from it—but King Solomon’s goal in Ecclesiastes is to find the meaning of life from reason and experience, eschewing the supernatural.

In other words, Solomon seeks to find meaning in life without God.

Not surprisingly, Solomon’s conclusion, presented in the second verse, is that life without God is “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (KJV)—in other words, it’s meaningless.  Solomon experienced possibly more than anyone else in his time—knowledge, women, wealth, great works, and power—but he found that all of these experiences and pleasures were meaningless.  All would be lost at death, and even the greatest of men are soon forgotten (it would be cold comfort, perhaps, for Solomon to know we’re still reading his writings today).

According to my little copy of The Word Bible Handbook, Ecclesiastes is not meant to be taken as an endorsement of nihilistic existentialism, and that Solomon’s insights are not Christian theology, because he’s writing the treatise assuming the non-existence of God (for example, when Solomon writes that everything ends at death, he’s discussing in that framework).

The point, then, is that without God, life is meaningless; therefore, life only has meaning with God.  The things of this world are empty, fleeting, and unfulfilling—they offer only momentary contentment or pleasure, but cannot provide deep abiding joy and meaning.

The widespread rejection of God, then, explains a great deal of our culture’s sense of existential dread—the sense that we’re adrift in a world devoid of meaning and substance.  We’ve embraced Solomon’s thought experiment:  a world in which we reject God’s existence.  Now we’re reaping the consequences.

It’s easy to do.  I often lament privately the fact that I will likely not be remembered beyond the twenty-first century, and probably not even that long.  Yes, history still commemorates some very ancient figures—Egyptian pharaohs, biblical figures, and the like—but even some of the greatest stars and musicians of the twentieth century have fallen into obscurity.

It’s an irony of our present age, with its constant connectivity and platforms for generating fame, that so few figures endure.  Even popular music doesn’t seem to create enduring rock stars anymore; most musicians get lost in a sea of cookie-cutter competition.

Even my fixation with these banal observations is a form of embracing the world’s value at the expense of God’s.  Again, none of that matters—even the greatest world leaders, or the most powerful composers, will fade away into obscurity, like Ozymandias’s colossus.

But God will always remain.  It’s an easy point to forget, especially in our age of shallow distractions.  As Solomon wrote, there is nothing new under the sun—our worldly affairs will continue to move in great cycles, history ever-rhyming.

But God is ever-present, ever-constant, ever-faithful.  From Him we can find true meaning.

4 thoughts on “The Desperate Search for Meaning IV: Vanity

  1. […] “The Desperate Search for Meaning IV: Vanity” – This piece pulled from a sermon my pastor gave on Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite books of the Bible.  Ecclesiastes is a work of philosophy, in which King Solomon examines his life and finds that all of his pursuits are, ultimately, meaningless:  he will die, and everything he experienced and built will eventually disappear.  Therefore, his only true meaning comes through God.  It’s the earliest form of Christian existentialism ever written (with apologies to Søren Kierkegaard).  It’s also a powerful reminder that this world, in which we are so involved, is fleeting. […]

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