We all have our Ecclesiastes moments—tho’ you may have never called them that—when it all seems so pointless.
In this continuing COVID-19 Stay Home/ Shut Down crisis, people are seeing the work of years undone in weeks. Many small businesses, for instance, have been decimated. What was the point of all that planning, work, and sacrifice? People living paycheck to paycheck are desperate. Where’s the hope when you want to provide for yourself, for your family, but you can’t?
Vanity of Vanities: It all seems so meaningless.
The Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes begins with a quote that may come from our mouths in dark days,
“Vanity of vanities,” saith the Preacher, “vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 King James Version).
Another translation says, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (NIV).
Vanity. Meaningless. Futility. Emptiness. In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates the word as “smoke.” The Hebrew word can be translated as breath, vapor, mist. In this context it expresses the intangible, ephemeral and passing nature of life in this world—apart from faith (see this concept also in James 4:14).
It’s fascinating that Solomon (the traditionally recognized author) wrote these words on the other side of success and fulfillment. (That is a subject for another time!) How much more do these words articulate our disappointment when our experience falls far short of our hopes.
Ecclesiastes Moments Dis-Illusion Us
Ecclesiastes moments didn’t begin with this new virus. They have been around since time immemorial.
The parents who invest and sacrifice for their children, only to be rejected;
The employees who give their best to their employer only to be placed second to profits;
The coaches who work to build a team only to be undercut by selfish players;
The teachers who equip students to think critically only to have students cheat to get by;
The medical personnel who care and counsel patients in the way of health only to be picking up the pieces for those who ignore their advice;
The pastors who… I’ll stop now!
You get the point—the point of the “pointlessness temptation.”
Experiences like these dis-illusion us. The prefix ‘dis’ means to separate, to pull away, to ‘rend asunder.’ The illusions and assumptions we counted on, built our life on, felt we deserved, get cruelly stripped away.
And that, while very difficult and painful, isn’t all bad.
Jesus’ Resurrection Gives us The Reference Point
The solution to our predicament of pointlessness will never be found in simply “getting back to normal,” whatever that means. Life will always be pointless if we fix on the improper reference point.
Imagine a mis-calibrated compass that points South when it should point North. The frustration would be beyond words. Yet the vast majority of people have no true compass. And Jesus’ followers too often forget to look at their faith-compass.
Jesus is our reference point and compass. The Scriptures are our map. The Everlasting Kingdom is our destination. And this life is, by faith in Christ, the first fruits of that Coming Kingdom.
The Empty Tomb Fills the Empty Life
Jesus’ resurrection changes the way we view life by shifting our reference point from worldly expectations to spiritual realities. That perspective shifts our immediate disappointment – and that disappointment is real and justified– into proper proportion with ultimate reality. Think back over hard times you’ve had. How do you interpret them now, with the passing of time? How do they look in comparison with your whole life up until now?
Jesus’ resurrection is God’s exclamation point on the value, purpose and meaning of life.
In my blog, Easter Changes How We View Death, I drew on the Lazarus story. I return to it again.
After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus stood at the entrance of the tomb, still wrapped in the grave clothes. Jesus then exhorted the family and friends, “Unbind him, and set him free” (John 11: 44).
Life’s illusions are like Lazarus’ grave clothes. Ecclesiastes moments expose the grave clothes that bind us.
We are bound by fear: fear of failure, of death, of what others will do to us, and even of what we will do to ourselves.
We are bound by worldly pursuits– but they will not fit in the coffin or the grave with us!
Bound by regret.
Bound by bitterness
What grave clothes wrap you?
Jesus’ words echo down the corridors of time. “Unbind them, and set them free.”
The Scriptures give us the assurance that life has a point when it points to Jesus.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless (1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT).