Posted by: mikebackup | August 5, 2010

When it all seems meaningless

When it all seems meaningless 

Ecclesiastes 1.2, 12-14; 2.18-23. (NIV)


“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”


Wisdom Is Meaningless

 12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are 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. 19 And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? 23 All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.

Let me begin with reading The Message translation of these passages, with an extension of the verses. Meditate on the words and acknowledge how you feel.

Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.] There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke. What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth. The sun comes up and the sun goes down,  then does it again, and again—the same old round.

The wind blows south, the wind blows north. Around and around and around it blows, blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind. All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea never fills up. The rivers keep flowing to the same old place, and then start all over and do it again. Everything’s boring, utterly boring— no one can find any meaning in it. Boring to the eye, boring to the ear. What was will be again, what happened will happen again. There’s nothing new on this earth. Year after year it’s the same old thing.  Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”? Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story. Nobody remembers what happened yesterday. And the things that will happen tomorrow? Nobody’ll remember them either. Don’t count on being remembered.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-14

I’ve Seen It All

 12-14 Call me “the Quester.” I’ve been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I looked most carefully into everything, searched out all that is done on this earth. And let me tell you, there’s not much to write home about. God hasn’t made it easy for us. I’ve seen it all and it’s nothing but smoke—smoke, and spitting into the wind.

Ecclesiastes 2:18-

 18-19 And I hated everything I’d accomplished and accumulated on this earth. I can’t take it with me—no, I have to leave it to whoever comes after me. Whether they’re worthy or worthless—and who’s to tell?—they’ll take over the earthly results of my intense thinking and hard work. Smoke.

 20-23 That’s when I called it quits, gave up on anything that could be hoped for on this earth. What’s the point of working your fingers to the bone if you hand over what you worked for to someone who never lifted a finger for it? Smoke, that’s what it is. A bad business from start to finish. So what do you get from a life of hard labor? Pain and grief from dawn to dusk. Never a decent night’s rest. Nothing but smoke.

          The first thing we can do with this passage is empathise with the writer. We have all been to this place and we recognise his experience and feelings. There are many times in our life when the trap doors open and we fall into a pit of despair. There are times when something happens and we are left feeling that it is all meaningless. All our barriers come down and we are left completely vulnerable, no more keeping up appearances, we are laid bare.

          This can happen because there is a constant fight with depression, or because of stress at home or work, or because of the loss of a loved one. It’s perhaps the worst feeling you can ever have. Doing anything becomes meaningless and we can quickly shut off the world. So sad is the fact so many people these days in Britain then take drastic action. Suicide rates are terribly high. In 2008 there were 5706 suicides with a further 9000 deaths the result of drink[1]. That’s 14706 people that ended their life in Britain in a single year because they thought it was meaningless. Is there any better reason to try and spread the message that God loves everyone and wants to show that we all have purpose and meaning? That love, purpose and meaning is also tangible in the form of a group of committed Christians.

During those times faith really can be the safety net. It may be that we feel we have no faith at that time, but those of faith around are called to be there trying to haul you back up out of the pit. Being part of close, loving church provides such strength and real practical support at those times. Talk about your faith to people, particularly about those times you have been in the dark and how you were brought back. It is such powerful genuine testimony that can’t be taken away from you. When you share testimony that talks of good times those we are trying to reach just think it was chance or wishful thinking Sharing stories that talk of your darkness and despair, but emphasising how faith brought you back, even if it was the faith of someone else because you had none at the time may just save someone’s life.

What we read in these passages is of course true. Everything we have and own is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, so what can we hold onto? God’s calling is the answer, the calling we all have of doing our best to build relationships by helping, loving, listening, empathising. Here’s the show stopping observation, when we focus on the things that cannot be bought, touched, accumulated or bragged about our life isn’t meaningless. At the top of things is love. Returning to those suicide rates, those 2008 figures represented a large rise due to the recession. This is when people believe stuff and money actually mean everything. How wrong they are. We are blessed in this country; there is so much support for those that get into financial difficulty. So often though people compound the financial mess they are in, they think things you can buy gives meaning to life. Nothing we buy can give meaning in life, only what we give. That is such a counter cultural statement but is so true. What did Jesus do to gain meaning to his life? Did he become a rich and powerful Pharisee? No, he made sure he had clothes, shoes, something to eat and somewhere to sleep. Then he gave time and time again, to the point he gave his life for you and me. It was one man’s act of giving that changed everything, not anyone’s accumulation of wealth.

Life is meaningless if we search for meaning in the wrong place. Meaning is gained when we give of ourselves and that’s encapsulated in Jesus’ command of ‘love one another’.


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