If you are person who would like some stark honesty about life, Ecclesiastes is the book for you. If you look around our world and are confronted by its confusing nature and you find yourself almost accidentally responding with a despairing sigh, then Ecclesiastes is the book for you. It is a disturbing read and deliberately so. Its sigh is the sigh captured in the words, “meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless.” This book is an analysis of life designed to help a person consider life, lived under the sun, without God.
The writer of Ecclesiastes is an observer, an investigator, a philosopher whose thoughts take him honestly into the dark and meaningless implications of life lived under the sun where God is absent. The writer is ancient but significantly contemporary. If you were to meet him today you might find him on the sidewalk observing the protestations of the individualist. He’d be among the press asking questions of leadership while watching the falling markets and listening to the gasps of the money lovers. He’s one of us, so you would inevitably catch a glimpse of him at the crematorium or grave side or dinning at table with those dividing up inheritances. He’s not a single issue writer but an observer of the life where God is neglected or dismissed. He’s not looking for a soap box to preach some narrow passion, nor is he looking to unite with others to make his individual voice louder. The writer of Ecclesiastes is simply seeking to connect with the bigger principles of life.
The writer of Ecclesiastes is a time watcher, or to put it another way, a watcher of the times. He’s intelligent and does not disregard history. That history he knows informs the immediate and shapes one’s future. His observation of the past, the present and the future issue in a despairing sigh and force upon him an educational search for something bigger than himself and others.
His research reveals a time for everything – birth and death, planting and uprooting, killing and healing, tearing down and building up, weeping and laughing, silence and speech, war and peace. In fact he even has this COVID season covered when he says, “there is a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.” He’s observed the gynaecologist, watched the horticulturalist, stood with the surgeon, held a hammer, been entertained by the comic, heard the sane and wished for the silence of the insane in a world of wars and peace. Without God his conclusion is a despairing sigh of meaninglessness.
But this researcher from the past finds life under the sun posing eternal questions. Here is what he says, “The more words that are spoken, the more smoke there is in the air. And who is any better off? And who knows what’s best for us as we live out our meagre smoke-and-shadow lives? And who can tell any of us the next chapter of our lives?”
They are great questions and our answers either bring a meaningless sigh or purposeful joy to living.
I learnt this week that George Bernard Shaw, the famous 19th century atheist, put his mind to these very questions and it is worth hearing his conclusions: “Man’s life is brief and powerless. On him and his race, the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow to pass through the gates of darkness, it remains only to cherish the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day and to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built”
This giant of history, this great mind, this godless man offers as a conclusion to life lived under the sun the sigh of his own meaninglessness.
George Bernard Shaw is not the only one to offer the sigh of meaninglessness upon the removal of God. It is why the writer of Ecclesiastes presents his findings, exposing us to the truth that we cannot live life without God. And we don’t have to.
Into a world made meaningless by human rejection of God, God entered in the person of his son, Jesus Christ. His life, death and resurrection introduces us to a time when God was made obvious, where unbelief was offered forgiveness through Christ, and hope was restored through resurrection. God in that moment of time came to us with the offer of relationship with the giver of life. His purpose for us was joy and his desire for us was to bring the sigh of relief.