In the book Living of the Ragged Edge, the author Charles Swindoll described a rat race as “the itch for things, the lust for more”. Swindoll wanted to know about this security; as he said, it is “a virus draining our souls of happy contentment”.
We all search for fulfillment. Men never earn enough, cloths are not fashionable enough, cars are not fast enough, gadgets are not new enough, even relationship is not romantic enough… Life is never fulfilled. Even if we find fulfillment, we do not feel enough, and we would search for more and more. Take food as an example. We may concern if my food is nutritious. But after being nutritious, we will ask, is my food delicious? If it is already delicious, does it have good presentation? We never feel enough, we never feel being fulfilled. In fact, the search for fulfillment is the search for significance.
A. FOUR Observations about Life
The author of Ecclesiastes uses four illustrations from nature to describe four observations about life.
1. Life is Short (Ecc. 1:4) – the Earth
Our life is short, but we always take life for granted. Ecclesiastes 1:4 says, “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” Earth is not eternal, but its life is long when compared to our life. Generations to generations, people come and go, but Mount Everest is still there; it shows how short our life is. The problem is, we take life for granted by forgetting our mortality. We have to have a sense of vulnerable mortality; if we know life is short, we will invest in eternal things.
We cannot take “today” for granted, but we have to “live for today” also. Someone may live in the past, or someone may live in the future. Guilt or wound in the past become the burden to live for today. On the other hand, nobody knows about the future, and that’s why we worry about it. With the burden of the past and the anxiety of the future, we cannot live happily for today.
In this way, we will never be satisfied; this is because we live a life under the sun but not under the hand of God. But Jesus came; He has forgiven us and redeemed us from the past sin. For the future, Jesus will coming again and brings restoration to everything. With the redemption in the past and security of the future, we will find satisfaction. That’s why we have to live under the hand of God.
2. Life is Predictably Boring (1:5) – the Sun
“The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.” The Hebrew word for “hasten” literally means “panting” with a sense of rushing. It means that the sun is rushing to the west to rest, and is rushing back to the east to rise. And the cycle repeats endlessly.
In a similar way, with the sense of routine, life is predictably boring. Many Christians do not live with a sense of purpose but routine. We go to church to praise God on Sunday, and get back to work on Monday.
With a picture of boring-but-rushing sun-rise and sun-set, Ecclesiastes uses poetic language to describe emptiness and restlessness in our life. We have lost the sense of great adventure in God. But Jesus has the adventure of Faith to us, an adventure of a new life. Knowing Jesus is the most fantastic thing in Christianity – Christianity is not only about meetings and activities; it is about meeting Jesus and living with Him. If you find yourself caught in a rush but boredom, you have to stop, and ask Jesus come to change your life. He will give you purpose and destiny.
3. Life is Aimless (1:6) – the Wind
After talking about East-to-West, the Kohelet now talks about North-to-South. While sun and wind seem to mean the same repeating cycle, they are in fact different – while the sun can be predicted, wind cannot be predicted. Wind and life is aimless, and they may both go around and around. But we should not set our life to “autopilot” mode.
Years ago, I was driving in South Chicago, where cars can be set to “autopilot”. With miles of miles of nothing-ness in view, I switched to autopilot. But it turns out to be very dangerous because I got very sleepy!
However, we choose to autopilot in life; we flow aimlessly, go around in circles. We waste our time aimlessly in, for example, playing games or watching TV dramas. Christian life is not like that. Life in Jesus is purposeful; in fact God intentionally give use purposes. Do not autopilot your life.
4. Life has its inexplicable paradoxes (1:7) – the River
Again, repeating cycles seem familiar at first glance, but the observation of the river is distinctively different from the wind. “All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.” Today, science explains these phenomena with water cycle – evaporation, cloud, rain etc. But in ancient days, people had no such knowledge, and so they feel puzzling about why all rivers go to the sea and the sea will not get full. Life is similarly full of things that are inexplicable, problems that have no answers. That’s why we are confused.
Life is short; however, life is precious. Imagine two men on a cruise ship. One man is standing on the handrail, the sea is before him; he tosses a sparkling, 2-carat diamond up in the air, and catches it again. Another man comes and asks, “What are you doing? Is it a real diamond? Why are you doing this? Don’t you afraid it will drop and lost to the sea?” The first man says, “Yes, it is a real diamond. I am tossing it because I am bored. But it is okay, it will never drop to the sea.” As he is speaking, the diamond slips out of his hand, dropped to the sea and lost forever.
The diamond is nonetheless precious, but life is even more precious because it is priceless. However many of us treat our life as if tossing that diamond. We do so because we do not feel fulfilled; there is emptiness inside. But Jesus Christ is the answer to our empty souls. Jesus Christ is the answer for the longing heart, because we can find fulfillment in Him.
B. TWO Existential Problems in Life
If we do not find Jesus, then verse 8 comes to us – “Life is never satisfying.”
1. The Lack of Satisfaction (1:8-9)
Life is never satisfying because there is nothing new under the sun. “Nothing new” is not contradicting new technology; in the context, the whole verse means “nothing under the sun can satisfy.” Even the new things become old.
I still remember the excitement the first time I took a plane – the plane is big, chair can be adjusted, and food is being served. Now I have 2-3 trips every month, and I have to go to airport, fly in a plane, stay in a hotel, and repeat and repeat again. It is no fun anymore.
Or that we have vacations. At first few years after graduation and work, vacation is fantastic. But later we are not satisfied; 3-4 days is not long enough, we want a 7-day vacation. We have to travel to other exciting places. Excitement is gone, satisfaction is gone. We have to do new things to satisfy.
Also we take the example of Jesus talking to the woman near the well. Jesus says, “you will thirst again.” Water does satisfy your thirst, but it satisfies for a moment only, and you will thirst again. Life is similar to that. No matter what food we have, what vacation we have, what gadgets we have, even a new boy/girlfriend we have, satisfaction only lasts a moment, and we will thirst again.
I remember the first time I travelled to Niagara Fall. There was a revolving restaurant with a great view to the fall. Tourists were exciting to see the fall; I am also marveled by the fall, and I thank God for it. But it is more interesting to notice the people in contrast – while the tourists are startled, the waiters and serving staffs are not. So I asked one of them, “Isn’t it beautiful?” The waiter answers, “Yes, but I see it whole day, everyday.” There is no more excitement.
Or that we sent people to the moon. The first time ever men landed on the moon, people stayed late night to watch the TV broadcast. Today, if we land on the moon again, no one cares. Because novelty wears off.
2. The Lack of Significance (1:10-11)
We are built for significance, and therefore we long for significance. There are FOUR pieces of truth in this significance.
(a) Human long for significance.
There was a story that a captain reports to duty in a new office at the headquarters. He is very happy, sitting on his new leather chair. Then a private comes. Trying to impress the private, the captain pick up the phone and pretend to speak to a general, “Everything is fine. Yes Sir, that will be done.” When the private arrives at his desk, he hangs up the phone and ask, “What can I do for you, private?” The private says, “Sir, I am ordered to connect the telephone line in this new office.” People pretend to be significant because we long for significance. Hippies in the 1960s long for significance; people joining gangs or high-class business clubs are to find significance.
(b) Human are built for significance
We are built for the significance because we created in the image of God, and we are given dominion over everything in the world. But we have lost this dominion in the Fall, and afterwards nothing satisfies us. We chase one dream to another; we want a new job, a promotion, a new boy/girlfriend. Soon dreams become nightmares. Millionaires want to be billionaires; but only after that we realize we have to deal with more risk, stress and anxiety. The more money you have, the harder you can sleep.
(c) Man cannot find significance outside himself
It is because true significance can only be found from inside – things from outside will not be remembered when you are gone. Your diploma or degree is insignificant after you are gone; your wealth is insignificant after you are gone. There was a Singapore athlete who has won many medals from all over the world; one night, there was a fire in his house, and all medals were perished, everything is forgotten.
“Fire” will happen in your life. All will be tested by the “fire”. Wood and hay will be burned; only gold, silver, gems remain. As a metaphor, these “wood” and “hay” are temporary things, while “gold”, “silver” and “gems” are the eternal things in your life.
(d) Significance cannot be found without God
There are three levels of life – public life, which is about how other people in the public see us; private life, which consists of family and close friends; and inner life, which only you can God see. True significance only appears in the inner life, which is the relationship with God.
Significance cannot be found without God. Man is different from animals because we are created in the image of God. All the security, significance and identity can only be found in God. The Bible tells us that we lost all of these because we sinned. But Jesus came to save us, and had our image restored. Therefore, significance in life is in Jesus, our purpose in life is in Jesus, our fulfillment in life is in Jesus. In Roman 6:4, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” There is no novelty of life but this newness of life. We once lost the dominion crown of life to Satan. But God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross; with His blood He get the crown back to us and says, “Here is your crown I died for you, I restored for you.” This is true significance; nothing else satisfies. Our security, significance and identity in life are restored in Jesus. God has done this new thing – He redeemed us by the blood of Jesus. Only this “new thing” satisfies us.
Only after that, all things are new – we have the joy of redemption, we have the joy of faith and confidence – because everything is in Jesus. Jesus is our true fulfillment, and His death on the cross has made everything new.
LORD, we give our security, significance and identity to you. We can only find significance in you. Please restore the joy of redeem in me. Help me from turning to earthly temporal things, but to find true fulfillment in you, Jesus. In your precious name, Amen.