(Part 1 here and Part 2 here)
10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. 14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. – Ecclesiastes 3:10-14
So now we can draw some final conclusions and applications of this passage. We have seen a lot, and it will hopefully give us a very different perspective to life and achievement.
In this passage are taught one great reality: we are not God. Did you get that? Let me repeat it: We are NOT God.
We really need to grasp this, because inside each and every one of us there is always a simmering, festering rebellion to the seemingly cruel randomness of life. Natural disasters that wipe out thousands. A child is kidnapped, abused in unspeakable ways and brutally murdered. A newly-wed, happy couple dies in a car accident. A promising athlete loses her mobility. Cancer. Dementia. Job loss. Just browse today’s news and chances are you’ll find all of these and more in there.
And there just doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it. Where’s that childhood adage that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished? Certainly not in the Bible, and certainly not in Ecclesiastes:
In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. – Ecc. 7:15
So the question, the natural question, is this: What is the meaning of my life? Why do anything? Why don’t we just curl up and die? We call them Big Questions, and they are – and we should ask them. We should be immobilised with despair about them because otherwise we’ll sleepwalk through life and never truly live.
Solomon’s answer is simple: We are not God. That means, first, that there is a God who is intimately involved with and has control of the events of every person’s life. Solomon is not a deist; God didn’t just kickstart the cosmos and then just let it be. Whatever happens in my life and your life, whether “good” or “evil”, it has been ordained by God (cf. Ecc. 3:1-8).
Second, it means that we have absolutely no chance of ever comprehending how the seemingly random events in our life fit in with God’s overarching plan that spans all eternity. We might catch a glimpse of a small part of an infinitesimal section of it, but we can’t. We never really could, but our natural rebellion against God does not allow us to be content with that lack of knowledge and simply trust God.
This is the essence of life’s futility: We can only find meaning from God’s perspective because we are made with eternity in us. So when we look at our life from our own perspective, the sum total of everything we are and we do is zero.
If we understand that, then we can understand the book of Ecclesiastes, and we can understand what Solomon, after failing to give his life meaning with every possible scheme, discovered and wanted to pass on to the generations after him.
Now, nothing of what we’ve learned here would be of any comfort to us unless we knew something comforting about God. After all, without knowledge of God it still looks as if we’re stuck between complete futility and His whims (and we all wonder that sometimes, don’t we?). In other words, I either have to admit that my existence has no ultimate purpose and turn that into my philosophy – as many do – or I have to admit that my existence is completely in God’s hands and who knows what He is going to do with it?
Just pause for a moment, and think: This is what makes the Bible so astonishing; the fact that it is the pleasure of this same God, who is sovereign over all, to reveal to us everything we need to know about Him and His plans this side of eternity.
And what do we learn about God’s plans? What is the great common and ultimate purpose of everything He does?
Jesus Christ, who is the living manifestation of God (Heb. 1:3) told us:
Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him – Luke 20:38
It is His glory. God’s glory is the ultimate destination, purpose, goal and end of everything that God does or does not do.
And with that marker for navigation, because we have eternity in us, we can understand that, even though we are completely unable to see how God uses the events in our lives to glorify Himself, our lives are not devoid of meaning. They are not random and without a reason.
The ultimate purpose of our lives is God’s glory, whether we realise it or not and whether we like it or not.
This is why the truths of Ecclesiastes are frightening to those who do not know God, but in the same time are an enormous comfort and joy to those who know Him and desire above all else to see Him glorified. And who are these people? Can we be one of them and find the only true meaning our lives can ever have?
They are those who, through repentance and faith in Christ have died to themselves and now live for Him who died and rose for them (2 Cor. 5:15). What does that have to do with finding meaning in life? It’s simple: Dying to yourself frees you from the horrifying futility of living for yourself. Those who belong to Christ do not need to chase after every experience and thrill and pleasure in the world, but find their greatest joy and satisfaction in doing everything for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17). They don’t need to live for their career, their family, their relationships, their looks, their social status, their gadgets, themselves, but they give all things to God and let Him use them for His purposes (Rom. 8:28; cf. Luke 12:15,21). They do not despair that they didn’t get out of life everything they could or wanted, because their lives are not theirs anymore, but they have abundant life in Christ (John 10:10). They do not feel cheated when the grave opens before them because their treasure lies in heaven and not in this temporary, fleeting world (Mat. 6:19-20).
And in the end, that is what the elderly Solomon found out and wrote down as the conclusion to his big Life Experiment:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. – Ecc. 12:13-14