What is the Meaning of Life? – Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26

What is the Meaning of Life? This is a question that almost everyone has asked but has conjured no definitive answer. Some of the most popular answers include: To seek wisdom and knowledge, to expand one’s views, to realize one’s potential and ideals, to live forever – or die trying, to evolve, to become the best version of yourself, to seek true happiness and flourish, to do the right thing, to leave the world a better place than you found it, to challenge oppression, to seek peace, to give, to attain union with God, to love God and all His creation, to make disciples of Jesus Christ, to be fruitful and multiply, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, to love more, to seek pleasure and avoid pain, to help others out of love and compassion, to have fun and enjoy life, to strive to master the world. Some will say that the meaning of life is to find the meaning of life; and others say that the meaning of life is to forget about searching for the meaning of life. Still others say that life has no meaning, because human existence is the result of random chance. But even people who deny God’s existence search for meaning of their own existence. Francis Schaeffer wrote, “All men … have a deep longing for significance, a longing for meaning … no man, regardless of his theoretical system, is content to look at himself as a finally meaningless machine which can and will be discarded totally and forever. “

Our text in Ecclesiastes provides the ideal passage to explore this age old, and contemporary concern of life’s meaning. In this passage, the old Preacher, “Qoheleth,” draws upon his experiences in life to advise a younger generation of the unhappy business of his own search for meaning in life. As he seeks to apply his own wisdom to find the answers to questions like – “Why do tornadoes destroy one home while leaving the next one untouched?” “Why does cancer strike some people, and not others?” – he not only discovered that trying to find the answers to such questions is like trying to grasp wind, but that the more wisdom he attained, only served to increase his sorrow.

Having failed to find meaning by searching for it with wisdom, Qoheleth then decides to experiment with the pursuit of pleasure. Not necessarily all morally evil pleasure, but pleasure apart from God. He successfully tested the pleasure of wine, prodigious theme parks, art and entertainment, and sex. After keeping his heart from no pleasure, he concluded that “there is nothing to be gained under the sun.” After striking out in the field of experiential hedonism, and perhaps finding much folly in his experiences, Qoheleth turned back to wisdom in order to contrast it to folly. People do this today, with or without a reference to God – they try to live good moral lives. But did this quest to know the difference between right and wrong help Qoheleth discover the meaning of life? Not at all; and neither will the claims of morality alone satisfy your soul. What is the point of being so wise, when both the wise and fool end up dead?

In his fourth and final test, Qoheleth looks at what he will leave to the future generation when he dies. Perhaps the profit and gain of his life of toil will become useful after his death? But he quickly closes the door to this possibility as he recognized how he wasted his life hating his toil, only to face the reality that he might leave his inheritance for a fool to squander.


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