What’s the Use?
Ecclesiastes 1:12–15; 2:18–26
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian philosopher who experienced the atrocities of the German death camp Auschwitz. He said the only thing that gave him and others hope was man’s search for meaning. This led him to write his classic book, “Man’s Quest for Meaning.”
In the Old Testament, Solomon wrote on the same subject. The book of Ecclesiastes is about his search.
Some would say life is about gathering things — materialism. Others say life is about fun. The Beach Boys old song seems to be the theme for many: “And she’ll have fun, fun, fun ’til her daddy takes the T-Bird away.”
There is nothing wrong with having fun, but life isn’t all fun.
Limited Perspective (1:12–15)
Solomon said, “I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.” He was searching for purpose in life but found the effort futile. He said, “I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.”
Note he said, “I have seen all the works.” He thought finding meaning came through seeing lots of things, but it doesn’t. Meaning comes from finding God’s wisdom.
Inheritance Blown? (2:18–21)
Solomon searched for meaning by exploring various activities that didn’t supply it. So he tries something different: money. “I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces” (v. 8). The result was the same.
In the New Testament, a rich young ruler asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:16–22). Jesus told him to keep the commandments. He replied that he had done so.
Then Jesus told him to go and sell all his possessions and give to the poor. Hearing this, the man went away discouraged. He worshipped his wealth.
Years ago I saw a bumper sticker that read, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”
A second bumper sticker was made in response to that one: “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.”
Those two reflect a philosophy of life held by many: greed is the meaning of life. Life is all about making money.
Enjoy Work (2:22–26)
Solomon realized God wanted humans to enjoy life and work. He said, “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good.” Solomon knew God gives humans life and work to provide joy.
Someone said that if you get a job you enjoy, you will never work a day in your life. Work should not consume us, but we should enjoy our work.
So what is the meaning of life? Solomon was on a quest to search for meaning. He explored things, he accumulated wealth and he tried fun. But none brought meaning. Solomon was learning that happiness comes only from knowing God.
Man is a spiritual being, therefore happiness can only be found in a relationship with God, not things or travel or work.
By Gregg Potts, D. Min.
Potts served as a pastor for more than 30 years in Mississippi and Georgia