“I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 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.”Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 (ESV).
Ecclesiastes is an often overlooked Christian book. But, this book must not be overlooked because it is necessary for our spiritual maturity. How can we describe this book? If the books of the Bible were likened to a meal, Ecclesiastes would definitely be a vegetable; in fact, it would most likely be the Brussels Sprouts. Brussels Sprouts (also known as Cabbage Patch Kids) are extremely nutritious, but not very delicious. We have been told it is good for us, but we really don’t know what it is. It looks funny, tastes weird, and smells awful. Like Brussels Sprouts, the book of Ecclesiastes is good for us even though it sounds different and is confusing. Consider this statement: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.” Here is another one: “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” Here is a particularly interesting one: “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?”
The Beauty and Frustration of Life
Ecclesiastes is necessary for our spiritual maturity because it eloquently captures the beauty and the frustration of life. We know this is true and it is good for us to have a book of the Bible that hits this head on. In Ecclesiastes we learn that life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling. The two verses above capture this truth vividly. God has given mankind time and space so they may busy themselves with earthly pursuits. With this “business that God has given”, He has also given mankind an awareness (but not a full comprehension) of a greater reality above and beyond them.
The beauty and frustration of life can be compared to a spot of color on a painter’s canvas. If you were able to ask that spot: “What are you doing? How did you get there? What is your purpose?” We can imagine it replying: “I’m not entirely sure. The painter put me here and I can only assume he knew what he was doing.” That spot of color has a role to play but at that moment cannot fully appreciate its role in the overall picture. Its awareness is limited. This little spot of color, hopefully, can help us better understand our current situation. We, on this earth, are like that spot of color on a painter’s canvas. We know we are a vital part of something glorious; we long to see it, but are unable. We are told there will come a day when we will be able to see the entire masterpiece, but until then we try to be patient. Walter Kaiser wrote, “God has made all the events and relationships in life ‘beautiful,’ each having an appropriateness in and of themselves. And in addition to the beauty and appropriateness of this order of things, God has also implanted in the hearts of men a desire to know how His plan makes all the details fit together.”
The Meaning of Life
Life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling. Ecclesiastes teaches us that life under the sun is full of vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:14 says, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” When the writer of Ecclesiastes uses the word vanity, he means “fleeting and frustrating.” James wrote: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
Ecclesiastes can help us remain faithful as we see dimly. In this great book we learn that life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling because life only has meaning when it is lived in a right relationship with God. Walter Kaiser once again helps us when he says: “All life unfolds under the appointment of divine providence…Since everything has its time from God, all the labor of a person by itself cannot change the times, circumstances, or control events.” The sooner we grasp hold of the truth that life is not intended to be self-fulfilling, the sooner we can grasp hold of the One who made it that way and we can better trust Him.
In this great book we learn that life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling because life only has meaning when it is lived in a right relationship with God.
Ecclesiastes helps us comprehend that the meaning of life cannot be found under the sun. The world and all its various parts do not and cannot provide meaning in themselves. Life, apart from God, can feel like playing a board game without the instructions. The meaning of life is therefore only ultimately found under God and His judgment. The meaning of life cannot be found under the sun, but only through the Son.
How to Understand Life
How does the book of Ecclesiastes help us understand life? In our study of Ecclesiastes, we shall learn that wisdom, pleasure, work, relationships and wealth are not meant to be self-fulfilling. Therefore, we must:
- Live our life with an appreciation for the work of God (7:13).
- Embrace God’s appointed seasons of life (3:1-22).
- Recognize God’s assigned authorities in life (8:2-17).
- Enjoy God’s approved lifestyle (9:1-11:10).
- Fear God and keep His commands (5:1-7, 12).
In conclusion, man has been created by God to long for relevance and meaning. Man cannot find it in this world, it must be sought and found in His Creator (God). Paul told the men of Athens that God has placed humans in their particular place and particular time “that they should seek God” (Acts 17:27). Ecclesiastes can hopefully help us react properly to the inevitable suffering we will endure. Will we do it in a way that is destructive or in a way that is edifying? You may not like the Brussels Sprouts, but they are good for you. Let us all pray that God would help us through this study of Ecclesiastes and continue to grow in spiritual maturity.