At some point we all begin to wonder if what we are doing in between the time we wake up and fall asleep each day really matters. The things we pursue, the decisions we make, and the tears that we shed are often in the hot pursuit of meaning in this life.
Ecclesiastes is about God and the meaning of life. I’ve been reading through it devotionally and I’ll be honest, it confuses me at points. It seems at times to be saying that what we do in this life, our toil is in vain. It presents life “under the sun” and largely apart from the plan and intervention of God. There are two quotes that have helped me to better understand Ecclesiastes and live in the good of the meaning God brings to my life. I hope they bless you and help each of us live with God at the center.
“[Ecclesiastes] is designed to drive us to God by showing us in an artfully indirect way that there really is not hope–and here’s the key phrase–under the sun…The writer’s purpose is to show that life simply cannot and will not make any sense, or can it retain any purpose or achieve any meaningful goal, without the existence, character, and plan of God…The whole point of the book is to demonstrate all the ways in which life is meaningless when you leave God out of the picture, as if this world were self-contained and self-created. The writer wants to depress you…temporarily. He wants you to respond, ‘No–there is, there must be, there has to be more to life than this!’ He wants you to cry out for the one thing that can give meaning back to life, the one place to ground your worldview: God, his story, and what his purpose means for your purpose” (Paul Tripp, Broken Down House, 218-219).
“Ecclesiastes may seem a strange book, but it’s more relevant than ever. Too many of us are chasing after the wind, looking for satisfaction in work, family, and success–all good things, yet all things that don’t ultimately satisfy. It would be bad enough if we were just restless, meandering through life, and a little cowardly. But we’ve spiritualized restless and meandering cowardice, making it feel like piety instead of passivity. We’re not only living lives of vanity; our passion for God is often nothing more than a passion to have God make our search for vanity a successful one.
We need to hear the conclusion of Ecclesiastes: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13). If you are going to be anxious about one thing, be anxious to keep His commandments. If we must fear something–and we all do–fear God, not the future.
The will of God isn’t a special direction here or a bit of secret knowledge there. God doesn’t put us in a maze, turn out the lights, and tell us, “Get out and good luck.” In one sense, we trust in the will of God as His sovereign plan for our future. In another sense, we obey the will of God as His good word for our lives. In no sense should we be scrambling around trying to turn to the right page in our personal choose-your-own-adventure novel.
God’s will for your life and my life is simpler, harder, and easier than that. Simpler, because there are no secrets we must discover. Harder, because denying ourselves, living for others, and obeying God is more difficult than taking a new job and moving to Fargo. Easier, because as Augustine said, God commands what He wills and grants what He commands.
In other words, God gives His children the will to walk in His ways–not by revealing a series of next steps cloaked in shadows, but by giving us a heart to delight in His law.
So the end of the matter is this: Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God” (Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something, 120-22).