Meaningful mist | Part 1
Reflections on Ecclesiastes by an African reformed evangelical pilgrim.
Photo by Nihal Demirci Eranay from Unsplash
Living in the shadow of death
Life under the sun is vanity. This theme which runs through the book of Ecclesiastes tends to create two kinds of people. On the one hand, one may resolve that since all is vanity, we need to have all the fun we can while we still have breath. On the other hand, some find the idea of vanity saddening and they lose motivation to aim for any meaningful exploits in their life. I am part of a men’s Bible study group that meets every Thursday morning in the city, and this has truly become one of my best mornings of the week. We are currently reading through Ecclesiastes with the help of the book, ‘Living life backwards’ by David Gibson, which has been very helpful for us as we look at this often hard to understand part of the Old Testament wisdom literature. My intention in this blog series which I have titled ‘meaningful mist’, is to write short reflections from Ecclesiastes, touching on various key themes from the book and how they relate to life. I need to acknowledge that a big part of my reflections have been influenced greatly by the passionate discussions from my men’s bible study group as well as insights from David Gibson’s book.
Vanity is not meaningless
You do not need to read a lot of Ecclesiastes to pick that the author wants his readers to know that life under the sun is vanity and all that we do under the sun is like chasing the wind. Now, the mistake that many readers make is to interpret vanity as meaninglessness or lack in value. However, the actual Hebrew word for vanity is ‘ruach’, which is better translated as smoke or vapour. The emphasis here is that our lives are short, not meaningless. Understanding this will save us from a pessimistic reading of Ecclesiastes. Our days are numbered. Soon, we will all breath our last. Here today, gone tomorrow. The question is, if our lives are so short, how then should we live?
Finding meaning in vanity
Many times, we like to avoid thinking about death. The author of Living life backwards talks about the ‘games of pretending’, which we play when we choose to ignore the reality that our lives are short. You see, we will only truly live if we accept the reality that our lives are short and we will be gone soon. In doing so, we stop pretending that we will live forever, and we begin to prepare for our soon to come departure.
The fear of the Lord is the wise choice
The writer of Ecclesiastes makes it clear that God has control of our short lives here on earth. He determines the seasons of our lives. He has made everything beautiful in its time ( Ecc 3:11). Furthermore, unlike us, what God does endures forever ( Ecc 3:14) and one day God will judge the righteous and the wicked ( Ecc 3: 17). It follows logic then, that if we are to find meaning in our short and vapour like lives, this will only come through a right relationship with God, who lives out of our time bound existence.
Ignoring God and trying to make the most of life without him will not only prove foolish, but even dangerous when we stand before him in judgment. So instead of throwing the towel and concluding nothing meaningful can be done under the sun, I would like to propose that when we live our lives for God and his glory, we tap into a source of life that promises more than this vapour, which is our earthly existence.
What does this look like? I don't think I can say it better than Paul, so I will just quote his words from Colossians 3:17
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
When we do everything as unto Christ, we do our work well, no matter what the profession is. We do our work with integrity, which is a much needed ingredient in the work place today. As we work, we look for opportunities to make God known and to point others to the only one who can bring meaning of this vapour of our lives. So whether you are a plumber, accountant, farmer, stay at home mum, banker or a vendor, there are ways you can approach your daily tasks that recognises the brevity of life and the need to do everything for the glory of God. The first step is to realise that we are only here for a short while, and that we are not in control of our lives. Thankfully, God is in control, and he does it so well. The best we can do is to do our work well and seek his joy and his glory in whatever we do.
Death is unavoidable. If you are reading this, one thing I can assure you is that a day is coming when your time will come to bid farewell to this existence. In fact, Gibson puts it so starkly by saying you are now closer to your death than you were when you started reading this article. Think about that. Without Christ, only judgement and eternal punishment awaits and no matter how influential one is in this life, death brings a sad ending to the story. For those who fear the Lord, death is not the end of their story. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, those who believe in him will also be raised to life again (1 Cor 15). They will be raised to a life that is not only eternal, but also free from the troubles of this broken world. In fact, it will be the perfect existence anyone could dream of (Rev 21:1-5).
While death brings separation and sadness, for those who are in Christ death is not to be feared. In fact, it is only wise to live our lives fully aware of the coming death and also to know that whenever our day comes, we are prepared. If you are not, my advice is for you to talk to a Christian you know, so that you can also have this confidence.
Let not death be the last word !