A treatise on vanity. That is basically the book of Ecclesiastes. What a depressing book. How is a book like that ever to be read and enjoyed, especially with our modern sensibilities? We need stuff that will make us feel good even if it is not the truth, right? Isn’t that what we need? That, at any rate, is what much of society would have us believe.
At first glance, it seems that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that would throw you into nihilistic depression just short of suicidal. So what use has it in Scripture? Or, what, at least, use do we have for it today?
Well, it does no good to build upon a shoddy and cracked foundation. We can build all we want but all we do is for naught if the building will never truly stand. If we are to truly build something that is worth anything we must start anew. We must strip it down to the bedrock. To say that all is vanity is to say that all is cracked, you cannot build upon it. That is not to say that these things are inherently bad, they are not. But for us to understand these things, whatever they may be for you, we must first know they are desperately cracked. They can never hold anything of substance. They can truly never be built upon. They can’t hold the weight. Thus, if we experience discomfort from Ecclesiastes it is the doctor’s scalpel. It is the necessary pain for the healing of our life.
It is when we can relate to the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe that we may rightly question and ponder the truth and purpose of life:
“For how imperiously, how coolly, in disregard of all one’s feeling, does the hard, cold, uninteresting course of daily realities move on! Still must we eat, and drink, and sleep, and wake again,–still bargain, buy, sell, ask and answer questions,–pursue, in short, a thousand shadows, though all interest in them be over; the cold mechanical habit of living remaining, after all vital interest in it has fled” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin).
We can learn and taste and experience the truth of what Harriet Beecher Stowe said and Ecclesiastes teaches us; we can realize that the foundation of this world is broken. There is nothing finally here that is worthy building our everything on. The foundations of this earth–whether wealth, pleasure, wisdom, or fame–will all give way.
Ecclesiastes is the building inspector, or better, the architect screaming out, “That wasn’t meant to be that way! It will never stand! That foundation will never hold!”
Ecclesiastes sounds the alarm. It tells us the truth:
“There is no shalom in our hearts, and there is no shalom in the offerings of the world. We are cursed, creation is cursed. We are groaning; creation is groaning. The ache is bigger than all of us.
We need a redemption bigger than all of us” (The Explicit Gospel, 133).
I believe it is when we come to the end of ourselves, when we realize all is truly vanity and grasping for the wind, that we will turn to Jesus and finally and truly find meaning; find a foundation to build upon, one that will never give way.
Then, and only then, can we truly build. Build correctly. Build with assurance. Build knowing that we can stand the storm because nothing can touch the foundation.