Ecclesiastes 12:8  Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Everything is meaningless!”


The book of Ecclesiastes is sometimes called Qohelet, which means “Teacher” and refers to the supposed author of the book.  We learn as we read that these thoughts represent the thinking and teaching of none other than King Solomon, and clearly Solomon had better days.  With all the lavish descriptions of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom and glory, it seems that he turned out to be just as depressed as Job, who had everything taken from him in a single day.


Remember that the Bible records for us what the people of God thought and said.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that every word represents what God hopes the people of God will think and say.  When Psalm 137 says “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against a rock!” that simply represents the emotions of the Psalmist as he lamented the destruction of Jerusalem.  I daresay that’s how many people felt about our attackers in the hours and days after 9/11.


In the same way, the writings of Solomon in Ecclesiastes represent the depressed state of a king who has it all and has discovered that all his wealth and wives make him no better off than the common laborer who struggles each day to get by.  In fact, he might be worse off than the laborer, since Solomon’s great wisdom leads him to reflect on his state, while a simpler person might just go with the flow.  “Ignorance is bliss” is something Qohelet might well say.


So what do we make of this depressed view of the world sitting in Holy Scripture?  Aside from the beautiful poem in chapter 3 about everything having its season, most people don’t find either their comfort or their inspiration from Ecclesiastes.  For me, it serves as a reminder of half of the truth.  In one sense, Solomon is right.  The things of this world will return to dust and whether you have collected wealth or fame or a thousand wives and concubines, it doesn’t matter in the long run.  Death comes to us all and levels the playing field. 


We are reminded of the truth of Ecclesiastes every single Ash Wednesday when we receive ashes on our foreheads with the words, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”  We could save ourselves a lot of anxiety and striving and headaches if we remembered that all this here is meaningless.  As Job could tell you, it can all vanish in a moment…even if you’ve built big, tall towers in downtown Manhattan.


But Solomon gives us only half of the truth, just as Ash Wednesday only begins our preparation for a Gospel yet to come.  The pursuits of this world are indeed meaningless.  But there is an eternal life that is offered to us…not just later, but now.  The way to find meaning is to put aside the concerns of the world and take up the concerns of the Spirit.  In the love of God, neighbor, and self we participate in the eternal…even now.  Love shows us the path through what is meaningless to the joy of truth…not some doctrine that is true, but Truth the person…the revelation of God in Jesus.


God of meaning, remind us to strive first for you and not worry about the things of this world.  Amen.



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