We live in amazing times. Truly.
I find myself increasingly talking to our kids about “the old days” – when we had to go to the library to do research papers. When you had to go to the video store to see if the movie you wanted to watch was available. When you had to go to an actual store if you needed to buy a new pair of socks. But not any more.
Because we live in amazing times. Times with amazing efficiency. Amazing information. Amazing options. Amazing technology.
And yet I sense in my kids, and possibly in the generation they represent, a sense of boredom. This is the generation that has been born with the internet; with no cords; with constant access to any and everything. And yet less and less wonder, and more and more cynicism.
That makes sense I suppose – they have seen it all. Been desensitized by it all. All the time. And now here they are – here we are – bored, and yet thirsty for the ever elusive “else.” For something that, at long last, can truly fulfill our expectations. That can “wow” us. That can take our breath away.
The next generation? They need a book like Ecclesiastes. Because a book like Ecclesiastes will resonate with them. With this book, they will say, “Yes! That’s what I think!” Or even more powerfully: “That’s what I feel!”
Ecclesiastes is an almost scientific reflection on every pursuit ultimately leaves one disappointed. Our natural propensity is to find something that brings us the slightest amount of joy, the slightest amount of comfort or happiness, and we give ourselves fully to it. We lay down our lives for it. We worship at its altar only to find that our thirst is not truly quenched; our desires are not truly satisfied; our longings are not truly fulfilled. In the end, that which promised us happiness leaves us with a gaping kind of inner sickness:
I said to myself, “Go ahead, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy what is good.” But it turned out to be futile. I said about laughter, “It is madness,” and about pleasure, “What does this accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to let my body enjoy life with wine and how to grasp folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—until I could see what is good for people to do under heaven during the few days of their lives (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3).
Futility. Madness. Emptiness. This is the constant refrain of the Teacher as he soaked the marrow out of pleasure, work, time, knowledge, and even wisdom itself, and with each one, found it wanting. Meaningless! Vanity! Each and every time.
With each and every one, they were obliterated. Destroyed. Crushed under the weight of his expectations. With each one, the Teacher found that they couldn’t provide the kind of satisfaction that we desire. Work never truly satisfies. Pleasure is never really enough. Knowledge is never really fulfilling.
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.
Here is a book for the next generation. Here is a book for my children. And here is a book for me. For here is a book that reminds us that we are stricken with the disease of falling perpetually short in our pursuits. It’s not that we are pursuing the wrong things; it’s that we are pursuing those things to the wrong ends and in the wrong ways. When everything under the sun disappoints, we have no other option to look out from under the sun for what truly satisfies, before it’s too late:
Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods. (Isaiah 55:1-2).