One of my great fears in life is to master work that doesn’t matter. It’s why I came to a point of crisis only a few months after graduating college—”Did I just waste my time for 4 years and a lot of debt?”
I’ve been reading the book of Ecclesiastes, one of the most interesting books in Bible, in part because it makes very little mention of God. Here’s a short piece of chapter 2:
“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.” —Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
“Everything is meaningless.” Those are the words of the richest, most powerful man to ever walk the earth. No one before or after Solomon has ever acquired more, and no one had more influence on the people and places around him.
And yet after getting his name written in history books, after becoming by far the most famous person in the world, Solomon said, “everything is meaningless.” This is essentially the summary of the entire book of Ecclesiastes.
Eugene Peterson says Ecclesiastes is, “an exposé and rejection of every arrogant and ignorant expectation that we can live our lives by ourselves on our own terms.”
In the first three chapters of Ecclesiastes, Solomon breaks his meaningless pursuits down to three separate categories:
“The more you know, the more you hurt” (1:18b, MSG). Simply acquiring more knowledge and understanding does not lead to more meaning in life, though it can certainly lead to more sorrow.
“Let’s go for it – experiment with pleasure, have a good time!” (2:1, MSG).
Some refer to this as the pursuit of hedonism, which sees individual pleasure as the most proper aim in life. Certainly, no man on earth knew more pleasure than Solomon. However, his plethora of wives, money, and property, were not enough for him.
“I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces” (2:8). And yet as his days on earth were winding down, Solomon began to see that despite his incredible material wealth, none of it was continuing with him past his earthly existence. As John Ortberg says, “it all goes back in the box.”
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon brings up questions and frustrations fully answered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A meaningful life begins and ends with Jesus.
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” —The Apostle Paul