When I was in high school, my physics class was assigned a project that I’m sure was not unique to our school. We were given limited material materials, mainly Popsicle sticks and wood glue, and instructed to build a bridge with specific parameters. On the appointed day, all of us brought our bridges to class and they were placed over a gap between two desks. Then small weights were systematically hung to the bottom of the bridges to text and see how much weight they could bear. Of course, in that environment, the greatest thrill wasn’t just winning the most sturdy bridge, but also watching as structure after structure was eventually obliterated under the increasing weight.
The weights weren’t added all at once; they were added slowly. One at a time. And they were added knowing that eventually every bridge would reach its capacity and crumble. No one thought that we could do something like stand on top of the bridge; though we didn’t know how much, we knew they would be destroyed under far less weight than that of a person. These structures weren’t made to support that kind of mass.
This is what comes to mind when I read through the Book of Ecclesiastes. It’s a book in which the Teacher systematically examined every part of life under the sun. He held up pleasure, work, time, knowledge, and even wisdom itself, and with each one, found it wanting. That’s the recurrent refrain throughout the book after each aspect of life is examined – Meaningless! Vanity! Each and every time.
With each and every one, they were obliterated. Destroyed. Crushed under the weight. With each one, the Teacher found that they couldn’t provide the kind of satisfaction that we desire. And with each one, we find ourselves eventually and inevitably disappointed. Work never truly satisfies. Pleasure is never really enough. Knowledge is never really fulfilling. Like bridges in the high school physics class, they all eventually sagged and broke under the pressure.
This is what happens when we place our expectations on anything in the world – they are crushed, for they were never meant to bear that kind of weight.
That’s the bad news of Ecclesiastes. Whenever we look to anything under the sun for fulfillment and satisfaction, we will eventually cry, “Meaningless!” as it is crushed.
But that’s also the good news of Ecclesiastes. This is more than just disappointment – it’s disappointment by design.
God has made these things in such a way that they will crumble. Each and every one. And with each and every crumbling, we are reminded of the vanity of everything under the sun when we put too much weight on it. And as we are reminded, we are also reminded that we must look out from under the sun for meaning. For purpose. For fulfillment.
Unfortunately, though, this is not a lesson you learn only once; it’s one we need to be reminded of again and again. We constantly look to the things under the sun to do things they were never meant to do. We put weight on these things they were never meant to carry. But each time they crumble and each time we are disappointed, that disappointment is an opportunity to look elsewhere. It’s a chance to no longer look under the sun but out from under the sun.
Thank God for disappointment by design.