“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
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, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:17-26
30 years ago this month our family landed in Japan. They told us to expect a great adventure, to discover and try new things and to have our faith tested. Yes, it was a test for taste buds eating dried squid, fermented soy beans and sashimi. It was a test to navigate Tokyo, Akihabara and Ikebururo train stations. But, the person we meet today was even a greater adventurer. He tested and tried new paths, traveled down new roads, met new people. However, the funny thing was, he never traveled to any other continent in the world. Rather, King Solomon did his traveling in his heart. You see, he let his desires take him anywhere he wanted to go. He had the wealth, the way and the wisdom to test and try every activity under the sun. In his opening words of Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote: “I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens” (Eccl 1:13). He experienced it all. “Been there done that” was his bumper sticker on his chariot—building projects, money, pleasure, alcohol, women—whatever the heart of a man could desire, Solomon tried.
Solomon was searching for happiness. Not just to be happy, but fulfilling, lasting, complete happiness in any activity he could lay his hands on, or as he puts it, “striving with which they labor under the sun.” So, let’s ask Solomon a few questions. 1. How much money does it take to satisfy greed’s hunger? 2. How much alcohol does it take to quench the thirst to be buzzed? 3. How many partners does it take to be sexually satisfied? 4. How happy do I need to be to be content? 5. How much do I need to pursue to have a full life? Solomon knows the answer to all these questions: “Nothing under the sun.”
You know this already because you live under the same sun as Solomon did. You may have experimented to find happiness with the same pursuits of Solomon, too. Maybe you’re still searching for happiness. Today let’s learn a better option than searching under the sun. Let’s use the research that’s already been done by Solomon and recorded in Scriptures as the wisdom of God.
Evaluate Your Life Under The Sun
To see the emptiness of things without God
To celebrate true enjoyment of things with God
Evaluate Your Life Under the Sun to See the Emptiness of Things Without God
Solomon was King David’s son, and he inherited tons of blessings from his father. So, we might find it shocking to hear him begin his inspired record with these words, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Makes you wonder if King David turned over in his grave when he heard his ungrateful son say such a thing. Could Solomon be in such despair, almost sounding like he doesn’t know the Lord God at all? But, that’s the point. We can have a world full of blessings, but without God we’ve got nothing. Let St Paul’s letter to the Romans resonate with you a second. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom 1:18-23). People traded in the truth of God for a life of worshiping the created things instead of the Creator. That’s the evaluation Solomon is making: take God out of the picture and you’ll see the emptiness of this world that will never give you lasting happiness.
Without God you’ll be empty & sad and Solomon gives us two examples:
- Death ruins it all: “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” You can work like a dog to gain wealth with great wisdom, knowledge and skill, but you can’t take with you when you die. How depressing to make the best ice cream anyone has ever tasted, but you don’t get to eat any! Then he adds: “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.” You can work like a dog to gain wealth, and then leave it with your kids to hopefully make them happy. But all too often it causes laziness, heartache, jealousy and greed. You have heard of many examples where rich parents passed on their wealth to kids who got lazy, selfish, and their inheritance was more of a curse than a blessing.
- Frustration ruins it all: “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” All creation is cursed by sin with frustration, pain, grief and restlessness. This life has rust, rot, and rubbish; sadness, sickness and suffering; thieves & thugs, burglars & bandits; and if you try to stop them you’d die trying! Frustration ruins it all, like walking in a figure 8 you’ll just keep going but never reach the finish line!
We know what Solomon is talking about. When the Lord God and his love for us in Jesus Christ is not the top priority, all else develops an appetite that is never satisfied. The rich want more. The worker works harder. The family fascinates for fun. Time seeks temptation. And hearts are never at rest. Without the Lord God as the top priority there’s always going to be one more thing your heart desires to be happy, content and fulfilled. This Solomon calls the sin of emptiness. And God’s Word calls us to repent. Yes, repent of this endless and meaningless pursuit of life under the sun without God. Rather, let’s Evaluate our Life Under the Sun according to God’s Word
Evaluate Your Life Under the Sun to Celebrate True Enjoyment of Things With God
Yes, Solomon’s point was not to say that all things are bad and evil. Indeed, God made this whole universe for us to rule over, enjoy and be blessed while we’re here until we are in absolute joy and happiness in heaven. Jesus once saw all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor at the same time. He also heard Satan’s voice say, “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me” (Matt 4:9). Jesus knew exactly how he could enjoy all the blessings from his Father in heaven. Jesus took the road less traveled and walked perfectly. Jesus walked where we all too often have failed, “Jesus answered, Worship the Lord you God and serve him only.” Jesus didn’t spend his days pursuing enjoyment of money, quenching his thirst with alcohol, lusting after sex and selfish desires. He came to give what Satan couldn’t, what a frustrating world can’t, what our own sinful desires will never reach! Jesus came to give us God’s kingdom! The kingdom that lasts, the eternal riches of his love and forgiveness. And with these blessings firmly planted in our hearts, then our attitude and outlook on all the blessings we have in this world changes! We can celebrate true enjoyment of good things of this world with God’s love, mercy and joy smack dab in the middle of it all!
Dear Christian friends, don’t overlook the treasure house of blessings Jesus has for you. Then realize that Jesus will often take the earthly talk and turn it into heavenly conversation. When speaking to the woman at the well, he focused her attention on those things that matter for her eternity using words that resonated with her perceived, but less important needs, “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Do you see? In Jesus is the end to the appetite! No more “chasing after the wind.” No more “meaningless to life.” Jesus came to forgive our sins of improperly chasing after the things of this world and give us a heart that is at rest with God, and therefore, at rest in this world as we manger our blessings to God’s glory. Solomon calls this the sweetest satisfaction when he said, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” Yes, when we recognize the Lord God as the source, the power, and the fulfillment of our lives, then we can celebrate the things of this world with God, and to his glory!
We’ve all heard parents say, “I want my children to have it better than I did,” and they’re usually talking about a better college, chance for a career, chance to raise a family in a better society, better chance to retire early. But, now we know better. Solomon would say, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” We’d fall off our chairs if we heard them say, “I want my children to have it better—a better Christian education, A career that allows them to be more active in their church, to have their family in worship more regular, and to retire early so they could do more for God’s kingdom!” Should we try it? Let’s put God’s praise on our lips (because it’s hard to praise God when your lips are fretting over life’s frustrations). Let’s have hearts of thanks for all we have (because it’s hard to thank God when our minds are worried and restless). Let’s have hearts of peace and contentment (because it’s hard to choose to be content if our hearts are too focused on this world). Let’s have lives with meaning and hope (because it’s all meaningless without our treasure, Jesus).
Life is going to be an adventure. The question before you today is this: Will your adventure be like Solomon’s to live under the sun focused on this life? Or will your adventure be like Jesus, who lived under the sun focused on heaven? Our hearts are going to travel. Don’t let your hearts travel down the road of emptiness and despair without God. Rather let your hearts travel down the road that celebrates true enjoyment of the things that God gives us and proclaim: Meaningful! Meaningful! My life has meaning because Jesus, my real treasure, gives my life meaning! Amen!