by Pastor Mark Shupe
As I reflect on all the events of 2020, a year that so many would like to forget, I can’t think of a portion of the Bible that applies more to the current situation we are all facing than what we read in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. A good subtitle for this fascinating book would be “Life Lessons from Solomon – Insightful Words from One of the Wisest People to Ever Walk the Face of the Earth.”
Solomon takes on the grievous task of looking at life for what it is – from a strictly human viewpoint that removes God and any kind of eternal perspective from the equation. This view is reinforced with 29 uses of the phrase “under the sun” throughout the twelve chapters of the book.
The conclusion to this search for meaning in life is given in the second verse of the book:
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of Vanities! All is vanity.”
Vanity means “vapor or breath,” and the word is used 36 times throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. In other words, when the things of life on this earth are looked at for only what they can offer, they are like a passing breath or vapor that quickly dissipates and leaves us feeling empty and devoid of purpose.
The events of 2020 have reinforced this key life lesson in stark and painful ways. Mandates related to the Coronavirus took away much of what we look to in life for some kind of meaning and purpose – job and financial security, freedom to do what we want to do, sports, vacations, school events, routine schedules, community and even being at church.
Perhaps, over the course of this year, you have even said the words “this isn’t life, this is not what life is meant to be.” And you are correct. This is not ultimately where life is to be found. True meaning in life cannot be found in what we can see and experience on this earth.
The life lesson is to realize that all the things we tend to pursue for lasting satisfaction and fulfillment will never fulfill our deepest longings and desires – and they were never intended to do so. We are meant and designed to find lasting contentment and meaning for our lives by looking “above the sun” – beyond what is just here on this earth.
Chuck Swindoll states it this way in his book, Living on the Ragged Edge:
Satisfaction in life under the sun will never occur until there is a meaningful connection with the living Lord above the sun.
As we commune with God, we begin to see life from His perspective, a viewpoint that offers hope and encouragement while we live under the sun.
For Solomon, that perspective included seeing life as a gift from God. The things and pursuits of life are to be enjoyed for what they are – tastes of what is to come – ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction that will be realized in heaven! When we adopt that “above the sun” mentality and perspective, it frees us up to accept the things of life for what they are – temporary gifts from God to be enjoyed.
Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart. - Ecclesiastes. 5:18-20
Solomon’s “above the sun” perspective led to living a life of reverence for God. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Live in awe and wonder of our magnificent God that includes living a life that is pleasing to Him.
The meaning of life on earth is only found by looking beyond this earth. As C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”