A long time back, I worked at a pet store and I got to watch hamsters.
Those little things will get on those wheels in their habitats and run and run and run (and run!). It’s remarkable something so portly is able to run for so long! And it never seems to cross their minds: they’re getting nowhere. Run as they might, they’re making no progress. When they get off the wheel, the next hamster will start running and the wheel will not have moved any further through the cage than it had with the hamster before.
Watching those little hamsters can remind you a lot about life. Doesn’t it sometimes feel like we get on the wheel of life and run and run and run (and run!) and when we get off, not too much has changed.
Alarm goes off
Go to work
Work some more
Go to bed
How has the world changed from that time spent on the wheel?
That’s the observation we see today in Ecclesiastes 1:4-11. Last week, I ventured where few seem to tread: starting a blog going through the book of Ecclesiastes. I’m in week two and so far, so good (right?). My wife, Patty, (who is also my editor) remarked that if I’m writing a blog about a book calling everything “meaningless”, does that also mean this very blog is “meaningless”? Hmmm…
But here we are and we’re looking at Ecclesiastes 1:4-11:
“Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.”
In a relentless cycle, the sun rises and falls and pants its way around the other side of the planet only to come up on the horizon the next morning. Likewise, the wind blows and blows and doesn’t get anywhere but the other side of the Earth where it comes back around again.
Streams into rivers. Rivers into oceans. Evaporation. Rain into streams. And the cycle starts again.
So King Solomon concludes the same is said of human behavior: “there’s nothing new under the sun” (verse 9). He even asks, is there anything we can point to and honestly say, “I’ve never seen that before!” Not really. There may be technological advancements, but we’re doing the same things with them those before us did with their technology.
We think like Solomon does. Don’t we say, “history repeats itself”? It’s true. It’s one reason why history is so important: we learn from the successes and failures of the past. Yet verse 11 greets us with a sobering (even depressing) reality:
“No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.”
We’re born. We grow. We contribute. We grow old. We die. We are forgotten.
It’s been said people begin forgetting about you five minutes after you die. While I don’t know if the time is accurate, the thought certainly is.
So what’s to be made of the “hamster wheel” of human existence? Solomon writes Ecclesiastes from the perspective of an atheist: what is to be made of life without God to give it significance?
And therein lies the learning for us, dear one. This life is an endless, mindless cycle apart from the significance and purpose Jesus provides. Sin is a cycle as well. Getting off the hamster wheel of sin requires an act of God’s grace.
So not only does God break us free from the endless, mindless, pointless, meaningless, heartbreaking cycle of sin in our lives, He also breaks us free from the endless, mindless, pointless, meaningless, heartbreaking cycle of vain repetition of “life”.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).
Dear Christian, our lives don’t have to resemble this hamster wheel of death. We’ve been set free to live a life of purposeful significance where we can impact this world for His Kingdom.
Don’t settle for the hamster wheel when our Lord has given you a race to run—all the way to the finish line of His arms in Heaven.