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The search for meaning
Some introductory thoughts from the Book of Ecclesiastes 1-12

Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? How am I to make sense of the world? What is the meaning of life? - and the answer is not 42 :)

This is the focus of the Book of Ecclesiastes

Note: Many folks are inclined to think that life has no meaning. The Book of Ecclesiastes counters this thought- but not before exploring the point

SOME BACKGROUND INFO to Ecclesiastes

-Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon
-It is a book of wisdom reminiscent of the book of Proverbs. Throughout the book Solomon, called "The preacher" share with us many wise principles that will help us get through life.
-Ecclesiastes is not an easy book in that it is not "cut and dried" Ecclesiastes is raw, it's a little confusing, it sometimes leaves us "hanging" with more questions, it offers no easy answers, Ecclesiastes at points seeks to increase our tension by pointing out some of the absurdities of life- the point being, it's good for us to wrestle with the big issues of life- not every answer is meant to be just handed to us.
-Originally I thought Solomon (called the Teacher) to be a skeptic, a pessimist. Initially I felt his tone to be extremely negative and depressing, now I see him as a wise person wrestling genuinely and practically with the deep questions of life

Ecclesiastes as a book has quite a developed theology of God- though at times one wonders if Solomon's view of God was completely correct (we saw this in the Book of Job when Job wrongly came to the conclusion that God had done wrong, hated him, and was using him as punching bag)

Ecclesiastes and God

God is in control, He's all powerful, He does as He pleases, to enjoy life is a gift from Him, He blesses those who please Him, He is eternal, He acts in ways to make us stand in awe of Him, He's going to judge all people one day, we are not to make rash promises to God, we are to revere God, there are many things that God does that we don't know what to make of because it is beyond our capacity to understand, God is going to consistently act in ways that remind us that He is God and we are not, it is of the utmost importance that we get right with God before we die - in fact, the wise thing is to get right with Him when one is young and then follow Him through their entire life.

As it regards God, a Key call in the Book of Ecclesiastes is this "Remember your Creator in the days your youth" Ecclesiastes12:1


STRUCTURALLY the Book of Ecclesiastes is tied together at the beginning and the end by this statement

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless"

In some respects Solomon is speaking "tongue in cheek", he's playing but through a variety of different examples he does illustrate that there is a lot in life that doesn't make sense (at least to us)

While-- and this is important- Solomon declares at the beginning and the end that everything is "meaningless" or "Vain" his ultimate punch line/ application is found in the last 2 verses of Ecclesiastes "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."

Solomon's summary is most vital!

Solomon's proposition is not an end in itself. Solomon's intent is not to leave us depressed and despairing of life. He has a purpose-- to help us understand that God makes life make sense and that meaning is found in relationship with HIM


THE MEANING OF THE WORD "HEBEL"

In Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 it says "The words of the Preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity." ESV

In the NIV it says; "The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless"

"HEBEL"

-the word means "breath" "vapor" "mist"
-Central to this is the what is in view is fleeting, transient, temporary and in an eternal sense devoid of value (which explains the words vanity or meaningless)

Also- hebel can refer to things that make no sense, things that are absurd


SOME LESSONS FOR US AS "THE TEACHERS" WRESTLES WITH THE MEANING AND PURPOSE OF LIFE

1. LIFE IS MEANT TO BE ENJOYED!

Just because something is fleeting, temporary, and like the mist which disappears in but a moment, it doesn't mean that the thing in question can't be enjoyed or serve a purpose for a time***

For example: Castles of sand on a beach are "Hebel" Pinning ones hopes and dreams on a sand castle would be an act of foolishness but sand castles in themselves can and should be enjoyed.

There are lots of things that have no eternal value but that can provide temporary enjoyment: In and of themselves these things are not bad, As transitory as they are, they are meant (as long as it is not illegal or immoral) to be enjoyed. Such is the gift of God to us.

8 times in the Book of Ecclesiastes the Teacher counsels us to enjoy our lives i.e Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 says; "A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? Also see Ecclesiastes 3:12-3,22; 5:17-19; 7:14; 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:7-12:1)

As Ecclesiastes 3 teaches "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens"****


2. THERE IS A FAIR BIT OF STUFF IN LIFE THAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE- WE HAVE TO BE OK WITH THIS, RESOLVING TO TRUST GOD

For example:

-no one remembers the former generations 1:11
-while wisdom is better than folly, death takes both people 2:14
-that which you think should make you happy, won't (i.e money, sex, power, possessions)
-You can work your whole life and amass a great fortune and then your heirs (who might not be hard working at all) will inherit it chapter 2:21
-Those put in place to do justice, often do the opposite
-We die, just like the animals- the irony is, animals don't worry about this, we do
-Working hard and not being able to enjoy what you've worked for
-Being smart but poor and marginalized
-etc etc

Solomon goes on for quite a bit pointing out the absurdities of life. He doesn't bring these up to depress us. He does it to make us think. He does it to show that life is complex and messy and this is what it is to live in a fallen world, He does it, to lead us to God.

We need to learn to be ok with the tensions of life, the things that we can't answer. Such are not meant to steal faith but, in a topsy turvy world, to encourage trust in God in whom is found eternal life and security.

The disorder and mess of the world, and even the inscrutability of God is meant to lead us to God and trust in Him.***

3. DEATH IS COMING FOR US

While no one likes to talk about death, Solomon seemingly goes out of his way to raise the subject

-Generations come and generations go, 1:3
-I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives 2:3
-The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. 2:14
-There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die 3:1-2
- Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth? 3:19-21
- Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:I saw the tears of the oppressed-and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors- and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died,are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

I could go on-- Solomon certainly does!

Why why why? Why does Solomon spend so much time talking about death?

While the answer is surprisingly long a simple point is this: We have to face it - as the Scriptures teach- the wages of sin is death-

Death is not something we can ignore-- even at funerals, people try to ignore death, but we can't and we shouldn't

The most amazing thing is this: Death can be prepared for. God has provided a solution for death and the consequences of our sin.


4. AS THE TEACHER WRESTLES WITH THE MEANING AND PURPOSE OF LIFE HE COUNSELS THE ABSOLUTE IMPORTANCE OF GETTING AND BEING RIGHT GOD

What makes life make sense- God does
Who gives purpose to life- Christ does
What's the solution to our sin problem? The cross and love of Christ

In Ecclesiastes 7:20 Solomon writes; "there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins."

Note Solomon's ultimate call- Ecclesiastes 7:13-14

"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."

In light of the coming Judgment get right with God. Be reconciled to God

When is the best time to do so? "Remember your creator in the days of your youth!" Ecclesiastes 12:1

God's amazing provision: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

5. GOD GIVES MEANING AND PURPOSE TO LIFE!

CONCLUSION

I'd like to encourage you to keep reading Ecclesiastes- there is a lot to digest, a lot to learn, a lot for the strengthening of our minds and faith.

As you continue to read Ecclesiastes, keep in mind that it really is not the musings of a negative pessimistic man who at the end of life's journey found no meaning in life. (I was tempted to think this)

Rather, the Teacher/Preacher was a wise man who learned how to live a godly life in a world filled with things that don't last but that do point us to the one who is eternal- The LORD and in whom is life and hope and purpose and joy.