30. Ecclesiastes (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 30.  Ecclesiastes (1)

Eccles 1:2   Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.

If we had difficulties with Psalms and then bigger difficulties with Proverbs, in choosing ‘highlight verses’, when it comes to Ecclesiastes, it is even worse. This is a book that is considered by many to be utterly dry and arid and yet I have to confess it is one of my most favourite books in the Old Testament, in that it speaks so clearly and vividly to modern materialistic people who are so often so intent on obtaining ‘things’ or having ‘experiences’. I have no doubt that it was written by Solomon – for who else could speak about wisdom as the one gifted by God with wisdom and known worldwide for it and for his incredible achievements and riches (1 Kings 10:6,7) – but as it so often uses the phrase, ‘under the sun’, it has an earthly perspective with only few godly remarks and seems to come from a man in the latter part of his life with a jaded outlook, exactly what you would expect from a man who has so fallen off the rails and rebuked by God (see 1 Kings 11:1-13). And yet there are underlying truths here that speak to today.

I much prefer the NIV’s ‘Meaningless’ to the ‘Vanity’ used my some other modern versions. It comes up 35 times in the book. Vanity is good in that it points out our human folly in relying upon so many of the things covered by this book, but ‘Meaningless’ seems to me to be much wider, and much more embracing of so much that is done by godless, self-centred mankind. Perhaps rather than try and pick up on one or two verses, we might profit from noting the things that the writer of Ecclesiastes says are meaningless. We’ll see how far we can get.

First of all – everything! (v.2)  “Everything is meaningless”. Well if that is not a jaded, all embracing condemnation of human life, I don’t know what is – and I don’t agree with it; that is the jaded mind, losing contact with God, speaking. In verses 3 to 11 of chapter 1 he seeks to put content to this condemnation. Lives come, lives go, days come, days go, there is “nothing new under the sun” (v.9), it’s the same old, same old; what people say or do today has been said or done before. Tedium or “wearisome” (v.8).

Second, he has studied and considered all things (1:12) but its all seemed meaningless.  Third, he thought he would check out every sort of pleasure he could find, but that too was a meaningless exercise (2:1)  Fourth, he undertook great projects, but at the end of it all, it still seemed a meaningless exercise (2:4-11).  Fifth, he considered the merits of having wisdom as against folly, but that exercise too seemed meaningless (2:12-16). Sixth, he considered the work he had done, and the effort he had expended and the anxieties he had experienced in it all, and realised he would have to leave the results to someone else when he died so it all seemed pretty meaningless activity (2:17-26)

Yet at the end of that comes his first comment in respect of God: 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?” (v.24,25) i.e. take God out of the work equation and it is a chasing after nothing. With God there is the hope of “wisdom, knowledge and happiness” (v.26)

There is a rhythm to life, that he acknowledges (3:1-8) and God has made everything beautiful and even put a sense of eternity in the hearts of mankind (3:11) but you can’t add to anything God has made (3:14) so just get on with your life and do good (3:12) and work and enjoy it (3:13), recognising God’s sovereignty (3:14c) recognising we will all be answerable to Him (3:16,17)

But then, seventh, he realises that we all die – just like animals, and that seems meaningless, that death is the end for all (3:18-21), so just get on and enjoy your work while you are still here (3:22). And then, eighth, he looks at the world and sees so much oppression (4:1-3) and sees that so much work is motivated by envy which makes it meaningless (4:4-8).  Relationships can be tricky, but we need support from one another (4:9-12) but ninth, watching the rise and falls of leaders, politicians and kings, all of that is meaningless activity (4:13-16).

Be honest with yourself and with God when you approach Him, and keep your promises to Him (5:1) and tenth, don’t rely on false dreams and just uttering many words before God because He will see through them, and so that makes them meaningless (5:2-7). Watch out for corruption in public life (5:8,9) and eleventh, beware making money and affluence the foundation of your life (5:10) for that is meaningless because a life of graft is folly, because you can’t take it with you (5:11-17) Conclusion? Yes, being able to be happy and content in your work, as given by God, is the best path (5:18-20)

This grabbing after wealth is a deception. Twelfth, you may earn a lot but not be able to enjoy it (6:1,2). You can have a great family and much wealth but unless you can enjoy them it is all meaningless (6:3-6). In fact, thirteenth, when it comes to your appetite you can eat and eat but never be satisfied (6:7-9). Meaningless! What is yet to come is unknown (6:10-12) and, fourteenth, a life of false values – trusting only in laughter and failing to see the values and lessons of sorrow is equally meaningless (7:1-6). Understanding the true values of life is important – wisdom heeds the rebuke of a wise person, but refuses the folly of godless comedians (7:5,6).  Don’t look to the past as better than today (7:10), just get wisdom (7:11,12) and remember the good and the bad in this fallen world, are all ultimately the gift of God (7.13,14) and realise that because it is a fallen world, fifteenth, it may appear meaningless when the righteous fall and the sinner flourishes (7:15-22) but we are all imperfect and (implied) it is only by the grace and mercy of God will we get to heaven.

And so it goes on but time and space stop us going further. But the lessons are clear and as you read through this book they are like the waves on the shore coming in one after another, and there are plenty more waves in the remaining chapters. So what do these lessons say? Well, take God out of the equation of life and you are left with a materialistic world where people with a whole raft of self-centred and godless mixed motives, struggle with live, trying to make meaning by achievement, trying to obtain fame and fortune. Some appear to make it, but so often at a high cost. So often the lives of the rich and the famous do not stand up to scrutiny.

Over recent years, I have taken a new interest in history, and whether it is writers or painters, money-makers or politicians – or royalty – the landscape is littered by messed up lives. So called famous poets or painters  leave a trail of illegitimate children and abandoned lovers. So called celebrities go through marriages like new cars, a new one every couple of years. Trying to achieve great things is only folly when you are godless. That is the lesson of Ecclesiastes. In modern parlance, Solomon would say, “You name it, I’ve been there, done it and got the tee shirt – five times over – and without God it was a total waste of time! If you refuse God, then try for wisdom and contentment and fulfillment in work – but in all those you will be short-changed without Him!”  And he knew what he was talking about!

1. Big Picture Stuff

Meditations in Meaning & Values   1:  Big Picture Stuff

Eccles 1:2,3    “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.” What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?

For quite some time I have focused on meditations that work verse by verse through a Bible book. For the last few weeks I have had this idea floating in the back of my mind to revert to a themed series and the theme being ‘Meaning and Values’, and to do that we really need to look at the big picture portrayed by the Bible. Now post modern people don’t like ‘big pictures’, they don’t trust them because they question both the origins and the accuracy of such big pictures, but I believe that is a cop out, a failure to truly assess the evidence for such big pictures and to write out those that are dubious and validate those that can be trusted. This is not the place to take space to validate Christianity’s big picture and why we can trust the evidence – but we may do that as we proceed through these meditations. So, meaning and purpose and values.

In the New Testament, John’s Gospel is my favourite for its profundity and revelation of the Son of God. In the Old Testament my favourite is Ecclesiastes because it so points to the dilemmas of the modern world, and it is this book that will be the starting point for much of our thinking.  It was probably written by King Solomon who started his reign with the blessing of God and so became the wisest man in the world and thus became incredibly rich and powerful. Tragically over the years he rejected God’s wisdom and took foreign wives who pressed him to worship their foreign idols. Nearing the end of his life, he had clearly drifted far away from God and had a jaded perspective of life.

I observe this jaded outlook in modern atheists. In one of his earlier books Richard Dawkins in his Preface, quotes one of his friends, Peter Atkins who had written, “We are the children of chaos and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.” Dawkins realises that such rhetoric doesn’t do well for the atheist cause  and so while agreeing with this assessment  acknowledges that none of us live with this long-term gloom. Indeed in future writing he goes on to try to show what a wonderful world we live in, but you can’t help feeling it is slightly cynical propaganda that flies in the face of his foundational gloom. His wonderful world is still a world of accident and chance although he tries to paint into it meaning through evolution – but it is still by chance however much he tries to insert some meaning.

It is the same foundational gloom that cynical and jaded Solomon starts out with when he declares everything ‘Meaningless’. But even in those opening verses there is a clue to the root cause of his jadedness when he speaks of man’s labour “under the sun”. Now that expression occurs, I believe, twenty eight times in this book and it speaks of the material world and only the material world. It excludes any other possibilities. Whether he does this purposely or it is a Freudian slip or even a nudging of God, is unclear but everything (well virtually everything – we will note the exceptions) is about life in the material world.

How tragic that a man who had  an encounter with God in a dream (1 Kings 3:5-15) and received such wisdom that he was able to become so rich and powerful through it, should end up in such a jaded state. We will in some of the meditations ahead, look at some of his causes for feeling like this because they challenge us, what will we make the basis of our lives. It is an appropriate question for intelligent people to ask: what is the meaning of life, why do we exist, is there any purpose in my life?  And yet, as Solomon was to go on to write, there appears a frustrating mystery about life: I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.” (Eccles 3:10-12)  Yes, the truth is we have these yearnings – a sense of eternity – and yet we cannot fathom how it all works.

The history of philosophy shows us great thinkers who came up with great ideas, only to be debunked by the next set of great thinkers, but one thing I notice, whether it is from Plato to the most modern philosopher, is that their thinking is “under the sun”. Yes, there are many world religions that seek to reach out to the spiritual world to find answers but so often come up with ideas that a rational and intelligent  mind rejects as weird. In the foundation of Judaism and Islam we find the rational evidence of the Old Testament but it is only in Christianity with its New Testament that there is revelation of this ‘mystery’.

The intriguing thing about Solomon is that as he recognizes this mystery, he blames God. Even in his jaded state, he is not an atheist, which makes him one step better than the modern crusading atheists with their shallow knowledge of the Bible. It will only be as we ponder these things in the light of the Bible that we will come up with real and meaningful answers. Come with us on this adventure and face up these gloom makers of the world who only observe (and then misinterpret it) the things ‘under the sun’. There is more to life!

41. Contentment (3)

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 41 :  Learning to be Content (3)

Eccles 4:7,8 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless– a miserable business!

You may remember at the beginning of Ecclesiastes Solomon started off, Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccles 1:2) A number of times he has put content to that initial declaration and so now we find yet another thing that he has seen that he considers meaningless or pointless. Perhaps that word ‘pointless’ is one that might ring more bells for us than simply ‘meaningless’. There is no point in this, is what Solomon is saying.

Look, he says here, I have see one of these people that I have been talking about, who struggle and strive for meaning through work, to achieve greater and greater things, but this particular man has been working all the days God gives but the trouble is that he hasn’t got any close relative to leave it to or who could even benefit from it now. He’s just working for himself and as he comes to this realization of having no close family, he wonders why ever he is working and working like this. His work just goes on and on and yet there is no one else to benefit from it. Meanwhile as he is working away all the hours he has, he has no time to enjoy life; it is just passing him by.

I have observed a number of people who do exactly the same as the man in Solomon’s illustration. There are of course, those workaholics who use every waking hour to prosper their business but have no enjoyment of life. Their family never sees them so they cannot enjoy their wife or children and so becomes a virtual stranger to them. They may benefit from the wealth he accumulates but when it comes to relationships, their lives are empty.

Over the years I have watched a number of Christian leaders, good men given over to serving God, but as I have observed their lives I’ve sometimes wondered at the lack of variety, lack of creativity and indeed lack of enjoyment of life generally for these men. We may give ourselves over to sharing the Gospel and building up the church, but if we ourselves are not living in the good of God’s world and having time to build relationships with those closest to us, surely we are missing something and surely the form of Christianity we portray is seriously lacking!

There is another group of people in the world today that I have become aware of who are missing out on life. This isn’t to do with work though, so I am going off at a slight tangent here. I am thinking about the thousands and thousands of young people who are addicted to computer games or addicted to a social networking sites such as Facebook. Many young people (and no-so-young as well!) are spending hours and hours and hours on their computers or mobile phones while all around them the wonder of the world is being ignored. These are the new addictions to be added to those of drink and drugs. All such addictions mean that such people are missing out on the wonderful world that God has given us. Oh yes, it’s not just work that does this to us.

Perhaps we might sum it up by suggesting that contentment, real contentment, that is not one-sided or single-focused, involves having balance.  Balance here means keeping work in proportion and ensuring that it doesn’t take over your life. In fact, I would suggest, anything that takes over your life means that it robs you of the wonder of the experience of being a human being who has been designed by God to enjoy His world. Many of us forget that being a human being means we are a combination of capabilities and so we miss out on one of more of them. For instance, God has made us physical beings and so we have the capacity to enjoy the use of our senses – sight, hearing, taste, touch – all of these things given to us by the Lord for our enjoyment of His world. But we also have mental capabilities so we can read or write, think, reason and plan. We have a full range of emotional abilities and so we may laugh or cry, feel for others, enjoy, anguish and so on. But we are also spiritual beings and so we have the capacity to seek and know the Lord and be aware of the spiritual dimension to life.

A balanced person seeks to use all these capabilities, but even that needs the wisdom of God, for He has laid down boundaries and if we cross them, we harm ourselves. Over emphasis of our physical abilities means we fall into gluttony, alcohol abuse and so much more.  Over emphasis of the intellect can lead us into pride and arrogance. Spiritual ignorance means we miss out on the most exciting side of our lives – encounter with the living God, the Creator of all things. In all these things we need to come to Him and ask Him to show us how to live our lives, show us how to avoid the pitfalls that Sin and Satan would lead us into. Failure to do this means we are likely to fall into a jaded view of life that Solomon ended up with. May that not happen!

16. Who will follow

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 16 :  Who will follow me?

Eccles 2:18,19     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 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.

Do you ever find yourself in light sleep and a particular dream or set of thoughts keeps on going round and round. It’s a little bit like that here with Solomon. He’s started with the thought that all he’s ever done is meaningless because one day he’s going to die and whether he’s wise or a fool that is going to happen. Death was inevitable. But then as he thought some more he also realised that all that he had done and achieved was meaningless in the face of death because he could not take it with him.

As that thought settled in his mind, he then realised that not only could he not take it with him, but he would have to leave it to someone, probably in his family, who would be left after he had gone, and who would then take everything he had left and use it as he will. That thought didn’t settle very well in him either. He continued on, almost in despair, from our verses above,So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 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.” (v.20,21).

Here he was; he had put all his life into great projects, bringing prosperity to the country and to his family, great riches and wealth like few had seen before him, and for what, to be left to his children who may squander it all foolishly. Whatever was the point of all of that? What a waste of time!

In fact, for Solomon, these thoughts were not too far from the truth, because after he died, his son Rehoboam acted foolishly and lost three quarters of the kingdom. Before long Israel had been invaded and soon all of Solomon’s wealth was taken, but it was all for the same reason: Solomon’s foolishness in drifting away from the Lord because of his foreign wives.

So is it a total waste of time being successful during our lifetime? Is it meaningless that we have to hand it all over to our children when we die, not knowing if they will use what we leave wisely or not? There have got to be at least two aspects to the answer to those questions. The first one is to recognize what we have already been saying in these mediations, that our lives will only have real meaning as far as we have a living relationship with the Lord. Knowing Him, knowing His guidance, sensing His purpose for our lives, these are the things that bring meaning to us. Our work, our career etc. should flow out of that relationship and because they do they should receive the guidance and blessing of the Lord.

When it is like that we have a real sense of purpose, achievement and fulfillment that is properly balanced, that enables us to form, keep and maintain relationships in a family that are not drained away by our work. Work becomes just a part of our lives; relationship with others is the healthy balance.

Indeed if we have a healthy balance from the Lord, then there will be other things in our lives as well as work, which we use and enjoy as recreation, the fourth balancing part of our lives – God, family, work, recreation. Indeed if we are wise and allow the Lord to lead us, our lives will have a giving element to them as well, the fifth balancing part to our lives, as we look outwards and allow the Lord to use us to bless others. When we can find this fivefold balance to our lives – the Lord, family, work, recreation, giving out – then we will truly find a sense of fulfillment and meaning and purpose. That will truly be a good life.

But what about leaving everything to our children? Is that meaningless?  That raises the question of what we leave to them. If it is purely money and possessions then we have missed half of what could be. Surely the greatest things we can leave them include the knowledge of being loved by us, a sense of security in that love, an understanding of the good and right way to walk with the Lord and to live out their lives in a relationship with Him, walking in righteousness and holiness. We cannot guarantee they walk in these things but we can leave them an example in their memories. Hopefully they will follow our example, but that is up to them for we cannot make them.

If we leave them money and possessions, we need to do it in love and trust, leaving them to use it wisely – or otherwise. It will be down to them. What they do with it may be a memorial to our memory – or not. As we pass on we may ask the Lord to give them wisdom to use it wisely, and trust that He will. We may also pray that He helps them have the same balance in their lives, after you have gone – the Lord, family, work, recreation, giving out, and in that way you will know that your life was meaningful and you contributed to the same being able to be said about theirs. May it be so!

15. Can’t take it

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 15 :  You can’t take it with you

Eccles 2:17,18   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.

Today’s title sums it up, yet I’m sure some people don’t believe it! Observe people’s priorities, the things people consider the most important. We make choices in life and those choices reveal our priorities. The priorities for the person who does not believe in God MUST be to seek to create some sort of meaning in life. If life is purely material and there is no God then all we can do is try and fill our lives with activities that make us feel we have meaning. So some people put all their energies into making money, building a business, developing a career, or having a family. For the person with no God, these all becomes exercises at creating meaning. And who knows, success comes. Lots of money, a thriving business, a renowned career, a great family; perhaps it all works out really well.

And then one day you are confronted with the unpleasant fact that you are getting old. Possibly, for it happens to many, you are threatened with what appears a terminal illness. However it happens, suddenly you are made to realise that your days are limited and death IS coming. At that point you look at your big bank balances, and your stocks and shares, you look at the fame you have achieved, you look at the business that is still blossoming and you look at the family where there are now even great grand children, and you suddenly realise that sometime in the not distant future, all this is going to be separated from you and you are going to lie down and die, and it is all going to continue without you. This reality has a sobering effect upon you and, like Solomon you look at it all and wonder and conclude it is all meaningless because this is what you have achieved – and there is a lot to show – but you can take none of it with you!

But for you, if you are a Christian, that is not how it is. At some point you came to realise that your life was missing something, your life was inadequate, your life was wrong, and you were godless. You heard about Jesus and you responded eagerly to the good news of the Gospel and suddenly life changed.  Suddenly one of Jesus’ enigmatic sayings meant sense: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:39). All the time you had been working to find the meaning of life, it seemed elusive. You found yourself and achieved great things, but it was all meaningless. This was not ‘life’. It still left you with an empty feeling, and then you came to that all-important day when you surrendered to Jesus Christ and suddenly everything made sense, suddenly there was meaning to do with life, and it was all to do with God.

Initially (and hopefully still is) there was a hunger in you, that wanted to know more, wanted to know God, wanted to know about Him and what he had done for you, wanted to know what he wanted of you, and wanted to know what He said He had for you. Suddenly life was filled with God-questions and it took on a completely new perspective. In the present you came across a reassuring instruction: seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33). Put God first and he’ll sort out and provide all the material things you need. Suddenly that took the pressure off having to succeed. The all important thing was now God and what He wanted for your life, for He promised that if you left it up to Him, then blessing would follow.

But much more than that, you found constant references in the New Testament to you having an eternal future. Death was not the end. After death came the next phase, an even more gloriously wonderful phase of living in heaven in God’s presence. That knowledge brought a new perspective to life here today. Yes, it was a limited time but it was a time given by God, inspired and directed by God and it was given over to pleasing Him and blessing the people around you. That brought a new freedom in respect of your career, your business and everything else. These were all temporary things and although they were important, they were secondary to knowing God and knowing His will for your life. This meant that when it came to making decisions – God’s will or your career – God’s will came first, and to your surprise, your career blossomed as well, because God blessed it. Will the knowledge of God’s will, changes of direction came as well, and with those changes of direction came even more blessing. Three times in my life I have gone with God’s guidance and every time my quality of life has gone up. Twice I have changed my complete career but twice life just got better. This is how it is with God.

As you’ve looked over these last paragraphs, have you been able to identify with what is described there? I hope so. If life is stale, if life is frustrating, if life has lost it’s meaning, it’s not about perking up your career, it’s about checking your relationship with the Lord. That is the crucial key to your life here on earth and the life to follow.

3. Repetition

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 3 :  Repetition

Eccles 1:4,5 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.

Hollywood has played with the concept of time in a variety of ways. One of them, epitomised in the film Ground Hog Day, is of being stuck in a loop so that when you wake up each morning it is the same day and you have to live through it again just as you did ‘yesterday’. It’s a funny concept and it brings out some interesting thoughts that apply here. The first one is that potentially this repetitious life could be mind-numbingly terrible, going through the same things day after day with nothing changing. That is bad! The second one is that there is no future; nothing different can develop from ‘today’. That also is bad. However the film develops an idea that is quite fascinating. The ‘hero’ not a very nice guy at the start of the film – in fact totally self-centred – eventually gets to grips with his situation by realising that, because he knows what is coming, he can act accordingly and change things – just for that one day. After that day has repeated itself a number of times he realises that if he is to retain his sanity, he is to do something positive with each day and so he starts helping people and changing himself in each day. He eventually is in such control that he becomes a really nice guy and a saviour to the community. It is only then that the time loop breaks and he’s allowed to carry on with his life.

Solomon did it in reverse. Solomon started out being the saviour of the community, started out doing really good things, started out bringing good changes, but as the years passed he lost impetus, lost his focus – the Lord – and found himself in a repetitious life where, as he looked on, it almost became like one of those speeded up nature films where the clouds move very fast, the day passes and the sun sets, only to later rise again. The sameness of the world almost seemed to mock him. He saw the sun go down, went to bed, slept, woke and there was the sun rising again, and again, and again. Another day, oh no! But as he thought on this, it was like watching one of these great marathon saga films that follow a family through several generations. They are born; they grow up, achieve things, get old and die. Meanwhile the next generation is following them along, following exactly the same pattern of life. They too soon pass on into oblivion. Meanwhile the sun keeps rising and setting and the world is still exactly the same. The sun is still in the same place, day follows night, follows day etc. It could be a very meaningless, mechanical world.

So how do we avoid this monotonous sense of life? We see each day as a gift from God!  As the hero of Ground Hog Day came to see, the day ahead of us is, in fact, a blank sheet on which we can live out a new day, that is different from yesterday and which has the potential of real blessing. Yes, there is certainly going to be a large measure of continuity from yesterday. Today’s work, today’s life, builds on what happened yesterday. Yes, there are expectations upon us, no doubt, in family life, in work life etc., but how we live out this new day is up to us. Life is made up of a myriad choices. As well as the hundred and one things we feel we have to do, we can add in a whole range of things that may impact and change this world for better.

As Christians we will want to commit this day to the Lord. That means give it over to Him and ask Him to lead you, guide you and inspire you in it. As you do that you are opening up a whole new potential for the day. You pause briefly over breakfast and scribble off a note to a friend you haven’t seen for years, and you trigger off a whole new series of events. Instead of watching TV news in the evening you ring a family member you haven’t spoken to for ages, and again you open up a new chain of events. At work you pause up and go and encourage and affirm one of your employees who you realise you’ve taken for granted, and their life is changed. You stop off and buy some flowers, chocolates or whatever for a loved one, and their life is blessed. Along the way – and imagine the day like a massive canvas on a wall that is being painted on as the day passes – you have the opportunity to add a splash of colour to the day, and people are blessed, lives are changed, and who knows what will follow.

Solomon lost that sense as the years passed. May we not do that! How about adopting a new approach to life? Yes, each day commit your way to the Lord and ask for His blessing on you, to guide and inspire, and then go into the world with the view, “Who can I bless today?”  Suddenly the view of the world changes and the potential becomes something that can be realised. “It’s a new day!” takes on a new meaning. It’s a day with God; it’s a day to add colour!  Yes, the sun will rise and I will rejoice that here is another day of opportunity. What will we do with it together? What does He want to do to bless me and what does He want to do through me to bless others? Have a good day!

1. Meaninglessness!

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 1 :  Meaninglessness

Eccles 1:2 Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.

Many people find Ecclesiastes dry and boring. I find it exciting. It reveals to us a fundamental truth, that without God, life is seriously tedious if not depressing. Ecclesiastes comes from that latter part of Solomon’s life when he had been drawn away from God because he took many foreign wives and gave way to their demands to have their foreign idol worship in the palace. Gradually he drifted away from God and into their confused and deceived lives. Here he paints an amazing picture of godless life, life seen from a purely human or earthly perspective, life that should speak volumes into modern Western society.

The last two hundred years have seen the rise of a number of atheists who have made their voice heard and who have pressed their beliefs that there is no God. In a number of cases these were men whose lives became emptier and emptier. One of these key people was German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). He was described as a most introspective person and so effective was his thinking on himself that he spent the last eleven years of his life insane.

True thinkers who start from the place of the atheist, that there is no God, must always come up with the conclusion that life is meaningless. One modern philosopher, Peter Atkins wrote: “We are children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.” The truth is that when you take away God there is no personality in Creation and therefore all we are left with is pure blind chance, and those words are summed up in the one word, ‘meaningless’!

The truth is that Solomon, in his old age, had abandoned God and so looks at the world as simply an incredible bank of data that makes no sense. Here is an important point to note: people don’t look at the evidence and move away from believing in God to a place of atheism; they start out from the place of atheism and then assess everything from that standpoint. Solomon didn’t reason his way to an atheistic position, he slid into it to please his wives. Once he was in that position he found all of his thinking was changed and this book is the result. When you find yourself with atheistic friends, ask them why they are, challenge them why they are. If they are able to be honest, they are atheists because that’s an emotional stance they took for convenience and not because they have examined with an open mind all the evidence. Those who do examine the evidence with an open mind become believers. The tragedy is that most atheists refuse to examine the evidence. They have adopted a stance and that’s it!

This is what we find with Solomon and when he views all he has seen and done from his position of immense privilege and wealth, views it from a godless perspective, his conclusion is that he can find no meaning or purpose behind it all. The Hebrew for the word we have here as ‘meaningless’ was originally ‘breath’. Perhaps another way of putting this therefore, might be, “Breathless, breathless, life is breathless” or to expand on that, “Lifeless, lifeless, there is no driving life force to give life meaning.” You find this word in Psa 39:5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” There the sense is similar. Life is but a breath, and so fleeting that it is meaningless. Yet the psalmist went on, But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (v.7). Life on its own is meaningless and it is only the Lord who puts meaning into it.

Christian leaders of the past obviously wrestled with this. In the Westminster Catechism we find: Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man?  Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.  Did you see what their conclusion for the meaning of life? It is to glorify God and enjoy Him. Everything, in other words, comes out of knowing God and responding to Him. Paul said, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” In other words, as God raised Christ from the dead, so he raises us from spiritual death and gives us life. Meaning is suddenly given to us because God gives us a new life and from then on everything about our lives is seen in relation to Him. When I see everything in my life as before Him, my life takes on new meaning and significance.

The question for us in the light of all this is, do I see that I have meaning and purpose in my life and that is it discovering and doing the will of God?  Do I see that God Himself is the one who brings meaning to my life? My life today is living out this life, responding to His guidance and direction and empowering. As I do that I have a sense of well-being and fulfillment. Suddenly life is full of meaning and I am significant because my significance comes in the plan of God. Hallelujah!