“My horoscope told me I should’ve stayed in bed.”
A Christian told me this and I couldn’t hide my shock. Was I shocked that she was up and about when she was clearly advised to stay in bed and not open the door? Was I shocked that the writer of a horoscope would take such a calloused shortcut with people?
No and no.
The shock I experienced came from the fact that a self-proclaimed Christian put more stock in a horoscope (which is allegedly based on the stars) when she could simply pray to the One who made those gigantic exploding balls of gas in space.
She read horoscopes before becoming a Christian and this was obviously an area she was still growing in, but I felt badly for her to believing this. She was promised a home in Heaven by the Savior who died for her. She experienced the Holy Spirit’s power in her life in amazing ways. She read God’s word (the New Testament at least) and was trying to apply it to her life.
But she was held captive by the frustration of what the creation had determined for her day.
She’s not the only one. We’ve all had parts of creation (humans are part of that too!) tell us what we can and can’t do, be, become, think, or feel. We’ve all taken up causes turning out to be duds and have also missed opportunities to make a real difference. It can all feel so…useless.
Today, we begin a journey that at this point I don’t even know how long it will take. Our journey is the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. And as we begin, we read in Ecclesiastes 1:1–3:
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Written by the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon of Israel expresses the sentiment of any who observe the totality of humanity’s existence. Meaningless! Meaningless!
There’s a lot of meaning packed into the Hebrew word translated here as “meaningless”. A view across English translations reveal the difficulty in translating this one Hebrew word into one English word. In actuality, it’s impossible.
The meaning of the Hebrew word behind “meaningless” (hebel) is more than simply “without meaning”.
Likewise, it’s more than “vanity”, as if everything is merely superficial.
Nor can we simply say life is “vapid”, although it is certainly brief!
It is certainly “absurd”, but it’s more than offensive to the senses.
At the end of it all, we are faced with a rich Hebrew word no single English word can convey—yet this entire book is built on this idea! Putting it all together (as best as I can), however, we can end up with this explanation for the concept of hebel from Solomon’s inspired pen:
Everything in this life is in transition and therefore there’s nothing of real lasting value. To get caught up in this life is absurd and sets us up to pursue worthless and meaningless objects. The evaluation of all of our pursuits, then,
is building a house of lies.
This is the theme of Ecclesiastes: what is life? And if God is not factored into the equation, what is the sum total of life? This is the most philosophical book in the Bible and approaches the situation from a human perspective. It does this to show what life without God is ultimately like. In a way, Solomon is showing us where agnosticism leads us: hebel—meaninglessness!
The teacher, Solomon, asks “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” Answer? Not much. When you take the sum of all of a person’s efforts in life, we are faced with a stark reality. We can’t take it with us. We came into this world empty-handed and we will leave it just the same. No matter what wealth we acquire in this life, it’s heading to someone else—just like it was heading to us from someone else.
It’s a frustrating (and depressing) way to live.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul had this in mind when he wrote Romans 8:20–21: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
It is the meaningless of life bringing us to ask the questions:
Is there nothing more?
Is this all there is?
Who am I?
What am I to become?
What is my life worth?
It is God Himself offering the answers.
As a Christian, we certainly have the answers to these questions. But Solomon is not writing from the perspective of a member of God’s family. He’s giving us a primer in how “the world” thinks. He’s showing us “how the other half lives”.
Consider the frustrating, meaninglessness of putting stock in a wisp of a few decades of our lives and take a journey with the teacher of Israel, Solomon, on a journey leading us to one life-changing destination: our Creator.