Gregg Potts, lay minister
What is the meaning of life?
That’s a question man has asked through the ages. The question is often phrased this way; “What is my purpose in life?” or, “What is the purpose of life?”
In 1992, Ross Perot, a wealthy Texan, launched a third-party bid for the presidency. His vice-presidential candidate was Vice-Admiral James Stockton. During a vice-presidential debate someone directed a question to him. Vice-Admiral Stockton began his answer with, “Who am I and what am I doing here?” He wasn’t necessarily getting philosophical with his answer. It seemed to be more of him thinking, “I’m not a politician… What am I doing on this stage?”
Nevertheless, this response represents a question man has asked for years which is, “What is the meaning of life?”
A beer commercial years ago tried to answer that question with an ad that encouraged everyone to “grab for all the gusto you can.” The idea was, life is about stuff… you only go around once so make sure you grab all the gusto you can.
Others believe that life is about toys. A bumper-sticker read, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”
Brian Harbour, a retired pastor in Texas and publisher of “Brian’s Lines” has said, “Ecclesiastes is distinct from every other book of the Bible. It has a character all its own. It is not legal like Leviticus. It is not historical like the Kings. It is not a dialogue like Job. It is not poetry like the Psalms. It is not short, pithy sayings like Proverbs.
“It is more like a philosophical discourse. It is written in the form of an autobiography of a philosopher searching for truth.”
The writer of Ecclesiastes leads us on a quest in life. But this quest for meaning takes place “under the sun.” In verse three the Preacher says “What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” So, Ecclesiastes is a quest for meaning “under the sun” or without God. This is why the writer says, “ Vanity of vanities.” When you are searching for meaning without God, life is empty.
Who wrote the book?
The book of Ecclesiastes is found in a section of the Bible known as “wisdom literature.”
The purpose of these books was to provide man with wisdom for the challenges of life. The author of the book is identified as “The Preacher.” The Preacher has traditionally been identified as Solomon although Solomon is not named in the book. At the beginning of the book, the author uses the word “Koheleth” to refer to himself. “Koheleth” is translated Preacher. The word “Ecclesiastes” comes from “Ecclesiastes” which is the latin form of the Greek word for Preacher.
The purpose of the book
The writer is attempting to help us find the meaning of life. As mentioned earlier, the writer’s quest takes place “under the sun” or, without Christ. So, the writer is trying to find meaning in life without Christ which we know, as Christians, is pointless.
If a person is not a believer, what is life about for them? For many, it’s about materialism. You are deemed successful in life if you make good money, have a nice home, etc… But we all know wealthy people who aren’t happy so, wealth, materialism, doesn’t bring happiness.
Is it about fun?
Years ago, the popular rock group, The Beach Boys had a hit song that was entitled, “Fun, Fun. Fun.” Some believe that life is all about having “Fun, fun, fun.”
So, the book of Ecclesiastes is about Solomon’s quest for happiness. He begins the book with the words “Vanity of vanities!” That’s kind of a depressing way to begin a book. Think about it; in most books, when you read the “Foreword,” you are told what the book is about. You are told that if you read the book, you will be blessed or it will help you. Solomon begins Ecclesiastes with “Vanity of vanities…” It means life is meaningless.
Then, expanding on this, Solomon asks, “What profit hath a man in all his labor which he taketh under the sun?” The implied answer is nothing. As mentioned earlier, the writer is considering the meaning of life without God and without God, life is empty… meaningless.
So, if this is the case, what is the meaning of life? It’s like we just do the same things over and over and there is no meaning. Solomon uses three illustrations to make his point.
Solomon says, “A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever” (1:4). People come and go… life has a monotonous cycle to it.
Then, Solomon says, “Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again” (1:5). Every morning, I look out the window above our door and I see the sun rise. Regardless what happened the day before, the sun rises. Life moves on.
Solomon adds, “Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns…” (1:6). The wind blows this way and that, day in and day out according to weather cycles or patterns, which are beyond our control.
And one more natural example: the streams. “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full…” (1:7). Each of these examples is intended to remind us that life moves on.
I love the fall of the year. It is my favorite season. And, I am kind of depressed, a little, when fall comes to an end. The beautiful foliage is gone; the ground gets colder. Every year, as fall ends, my mind begins to think about the season that will follow, winter. But gradually, temperatures will rise. Flowers will begin to bloom, as winter gives way to spring, and spring to summer, and before you know it, it’s fall again. Life has seasons. Seasons come and go, the winds blow, waters flow to the river, etc… but life moves on.
The conclusion of the book
Solomon says, “the eye is not satisfied…”, and the “ear is not filled.” No matter what man does, there is no meaning without Christ. Solomon says, “There is nothing new under the sun…”
So, in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, the writer tells us he is on a quest to determine the meaning of life and his search is being conducted “under the sun,” meaning without direction from Christ. Ecclesiastes was written hundreds of years before Jesus but, Jesus answered the writer’s question; Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses His soul?” (Mark 8:36) Life has no meaning apart from Christ.