All is Vanity Because All is Utter Futility
12 I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. 14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. 15 What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted, (Ecclesiastes 1:12-15).
Last night my wife and I read through the entire book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon, the “teacher.” It’s an interesting read and can be taken as something that makes a person want to shrug their shoulders at life after realizing that, in many ways, Solomon was absolutely correct. Life is vanity. The real meaning of that word is found in the two words “utter futility.”
Solomon sets out to apply wisdom to life and life’s situations, attempting to determine what he can discern. He quickly learns that there are many things in life that are fully inequitable. Sometimes, the evil man lives long and appears to prosper, while the righteous dies an early death. At other times, evil seems to prosper in a community while righteous living is squelched.
As we read, I noted that there is a certain amount of truth to what Solomon had to say. In fact, in many ways, he’s right on. I remember how, when I was attending a very conservative Bible college in the late 1970s, we were taught then that Solomon – because of his wayward lifestyle (marrying so many women, many of whom were of different religions and caving into their demands to allow them to worship their own gods in Jerusalem) – he became jaded. As wise as he was, Solomon could not see beyond his own jaded outlook. Of course, in the end of Ecclesiastes, he “finds” the truth that is only found in God, etc.
That’s certainly one way of looking at things. However, after re-reading Ecclesiastes last night, I’ve come to the conclusion that Solomon wasn’t jaded so much as his wisdom had created within him a deep sense of realism. He understood what many of us fail to understand. Life is really fleeting and for all the hard work that we commit ourselves to in this life, we not only often have little to show for it, but we cannot take any of it with us. He was speaking of material possessions of course. Beyond this, he also lamented the fact that a man will spend his life working hard to gather material possessions only to leave them to someone who did not work for them.
Solomon’s answer? It is really simple. Work hard, yes, and learn to enjoy the fruit of your labor now. Be thankful for what God has given you and allow yourself the time to enjoy it. What it seems Solomon was actually saying is that we should strive to live our lives one day at a time, enjoying the benefits of that day and the fruit of our labors for that day. We shouldn’t make serious plans because we have no clue what will happen tomorrow. So while we can make plans, we always need to be aware of the fact that God can (and often will), override those plans as He sees fit.
Ultimately, as Solomon recognizes, God is in charge. Our job is not to make Him angry. Too late. While we live in a time of grace that God extends to the human family, a time is coming when He will unleash His wrath. It’s actually been building since the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). See how much patience God has with us, His wayward Creation?
17 And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind. 18 Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain, (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18).
“Striving after wind” is translated chasing the wind in the New English Translation (NET). I like that. So much of what humanity does is likened by Solomon as chasing the wind, a preposterous action precipitated by people who think they actually have control over things. It’s pitiable, isn’t it?
I think Solomon saw things very clearly from a human perspective. Yes, he clearly (and probably very deliberately) left out some spiritual ramifications, but in reality, he chose to focus on the actions and intents of people. Most of the time, they are not good because they are all focused on self.
In Ecclesiastes 12:1, Solomon makes a point that is to be heralded by all people. “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no delight in them‘.”
Knowing that God exists and knowing your place in comparison to Him puts things in total perspective. So many people today create whirlwinds of activity in their lives. They are always doing things, striving to get to the next stop on their way to awesomeness or success. These people fail to realize that what they should be doing is being content with what God has given them so that they can actually enjoy their lives. Soon, their very life will be gone. Then what will they have to show for the years they lived?
They spend their days trying to amass wealth, fame, knowledge, or something else and in the end, everyone is the very same. All die. All living comes to an end and the generation that comes after does not remember the generation that came before. When Solomon talks about the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, he is right. Oh sure, we have “smart phones” and he didn’t, but what he meant was that there is really no new idea. Smart phones are simply the way this generation communicates but communication itself has been around since the beginning and each generation had their unique way of communicating.
It is very easy to read Ecclesiastes and come away nearly depressed about the whole thing and life in general. Toward the end of Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon talks about how he tried hard to write truthful words that would “delight” and would be seen as “correct.” He yearned to teach people with the wisdom God had given him.
In the end, he arrives to this one conclusion:
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil, (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
There it is, from the wisest man whoever lived (except Jesus). He cracks the code and helps us understand that much of the way we live and most of what we attempt to accomplish is utter futility because it is somehow tied to self. To live appropriately, we must only do two things, arguably the two most difficult things any person can every hope to accomplish; 1) fear God, and 2) keep His commandments.
Isn’t this also what the Psalmist told us in Psalm 111:10?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.
What the Psalmist says in one verse, Solomon took twelve chapters to arrive to the same conclusion. But both ways are necessary because there are people who simply won’t believe what the Psalmist said and in those cases, the way Solomon breaks it down goes a long way in convincing them. Whether they’ll be totally convinced or not is something else, but they cannot argue that there were no stones left unturned. Solomon covers them all. Yet, in the end, it is impossible to live a life of continued obedience to God from the heart. It takes an internal change, a new birth (John 3) to create within us a righteousness that comes from God Himself.
So, what about you? Is your life a whirlwind of activity where you hope to “one day” have everything you want to have? If so, you are missing a very large part of life now because you are not truly living. You are simply existing on a treadmill directing you to a place you hope to arrive to one day. In the end, you’ll probably never get there because God’s plans take precedence over yours…and mine. Get off the treadmill, understand the meaning of your life and start to look away from yourself.
Fear God, understanding that He has the power of your life in His hand. If you do, you will find yourself living in a way that puts you more in line with what God wants for you – to obey His commands (live a life of true love by loving Him and loving your neighbor as yourself), so that you will actually be able to enjoy your life now. Of course, this can only occur when you receive the salvation that comes from Jesus, something even Solomon was unable to see in spite of his wisdom.
One day, all will stand before God. Only those who love God (who have received the only salvation He offers), will be pass the judgment. Even then, loss will occur (though not loss of salvation; 1 Corinthians 3:12). Those who love self more than God will realize that they wasted their entire earthly lives struggling to gain what they were never able to reach. In the process, they will have lived their life totally dedicated not to loving or fearing God, but loving themselves and fearing never finding fulfillment in the things they chased after.
Solomon gives us permission to enjoy life by recognizing where life itself comes from (our Creator) and once we begin to appreciate that, we begin to see what is truly important. So much of what we do is utter futility. We need to stop chasing things and we need to start pursuing God.
Jesus was born into this world, clothing Himself as human being, while retaining His deity (Philippians 2:6-8). He became the God-Man and did so that we might learn about God’s love for us and provide a way for us to escape the utter futility of our existence.
It is the Christmas season and I make sure that people – complete strangers – understand what this season is all about. It is about God and His perfect love for people, so much so, that He would be born among us, live a sinless life, and die a sinner’s death (without ever sinning Himself; 2 Corinthians 5:21). This is love. Love is what draws us to God because God is love (1 John 4:8, 16b). It is what reminds us that we have every reason to stop chasing after things that don’t matter.
Realize that everything you do – apart from Jesus – is utter futility. Salvation changes that. If you don’t have salvation, you need it. For more information, please read this article on God’s Simply Plan of Salvation. Do not let one more day go by without resolving this issue for yourself.
Entry filed under: christianity, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation, second coming. Tags: chasing the wind, ecclesiastes, jesus god-man, solomon, utter fuitlity, vanity.