There is no remembrance of former things,
Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come
By those who will come after. (Ecclesiastes 1:11)
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, mused about his search for meaning in life in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is marked by a recurring theme of futility right from the beginning, and it is expressed in the very first words of the book, when the Preacher says, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity” (see Ecclesiastes 1:1). However, the book’s perspective is sometimes misunderstood, and thus, the sad theme of futility is often mistaken to mean that there is no meaning in life, period. But again and again, Solomon gives us a clue with words like “under the sun” and “under heaven” which are indicators that he is really speaking of natural life, or life without God.
From a natural standpoint, there is indeed a certain monotony to life. We wake up, go to work, come home, and go to bed, only to do it all again the next day. While there may be sufficient variety sprinkled in the rhythm of life’s cadence to sometimes break up that monotony, the steps to life’s familiar dance are predictable enough to have caused philosophers throughout the ages, not to mention those of us who move to these all-too-familiar rhythms, to ask, “What does it all mean?” or, “What is it all for?” or, “What is the purpose for my life?” These are the big philosophical questions about which mankind has always been concerned. We may answer them differently, depending on our worldview, but we all ask them at some point in our lives.
Sometimes, the question may come in a more pragmatic form, such as when the young college student is deciding on a major, trying to determine what his chosen profession will be in life. While he may not see it as an existential crisis at the time, the questions will likely surface later, particularly when meaning is not to be found in the coveted career or the money one makes. Too many have been the numbers of those who, after having scaled the dizzying heights of success, found nothing at the top but a sense of emptiness and despair. Too many have been the number of famous men and women who took their own lives, the victims of an inner struggle for meaning and fulfillment that never came through money, success, or the accolades of men. While we remember and celebrate their lives and the impact they made on our culture, we are left asking the question again and again: “Why?”
Someone may ask, “Who will remember the record of my years, and to what purpose was I born?” If, as the naturalists and materialists tell us, there is nothing but matter and the material world, then truly, nothing we do does matter, and “all is vanity” as the preacher declared, since there is nothing to be ultimately gained by all our labor in this life. That is, if there is only this life, here in this world “under the sun.” As one continues to read through the book of Ecclesiastes, we see the Preacher indulge in every pleasure, as well as observe the lives of men who labor to achieve success and riches, only to conclude that “all was vanity and grasping for the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). He gives us a look at what is to be found at the end of that road upon which so many spend all their time traveling; that path to success which gives one the ability to completely indulge every desire, and he tells us that there is no ultimate meaning in pleasure. It too is only a mirage, promising much and delivering no lasting fulfillment. As mentioned before, those in our world who have gained sufficient success to have pursued these things as an end in themselves have come away with the same conclusion, that ultimate meaning cannot be found in what this life alone can offer.
To find meaning, then, one must seek out a transcendent truth; that there is more than this natural, material world. Indeed, the Bible tells us that God, Who is Himself the transcendent first cause of this material universe, called and appointed us before the world began. He made us for fellowship with Himself, not because of some unmet need in Himself, but because in His love He wanted to impart the riches of His beneficence to those who would become the objects of that love. He has imbued our lives with meaning by calling us first to fellowship and, secondly, to service, yet not the service of a slave rendered to his master, but the laboring together of a Father with His family. He does not call us slaves, but twice-born sons, first by natural and then by supernatural means, through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, that we might receive the life that He alone possesses and by which we are transformed into His very own children.
The Bible says that this life is in His Son, Jesus, Who being eternal God, humbled Himself to identify with us that He might bear our sin on the cross, removing the insurmountable wall of division between sinful man and holy God. Now there is a bridge to the life and the purpose to which God originally called us. Furthermore, He has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation that all men might know the love of a God that reached down to us at our lowest, most helpless state in the person of Jesus Christ, that we who trust in Him might be raised up and seated with Him in heavenly places (see Ephesians 2:1-7). Indeed, the Bible says we are each uniquely fashioned by the Master with gifts He has bestowed that we might serve Him as He intended that we should from the foundations of the earth (see Ephesians 2:10; 4:7).
There are many things men do and great feats they accomplish in this world that are scarcely remembered from one decade to the next. They are lost like the waves that are turned under the surging seas, never to be remembered again. One name replaces another, and the faces which grace our magazines today are forgotten by the next generation which have their own luminaries that will likewise shine briefly, only to be lost in the brighter light of those which will come after. This is the way of the world that does not know God and is bereft of any purpose past the fleeting brevity of this life. But for those who serve His purpose, their light will never go out, and their deeds are never forgotten. Rather, their glory increases as they pass from this into the next age, in which the tired, tattered curtain of space and time will itself become but a faded memory.
Time itself is waxing old as eternity rushes relentlessly toward each and every one of us. We must choose to embrace the eternal purpose for which we were created or keep to our own purposes, which are ultimately doomed to pass with the temporal world in which they were wrought. God not only offers life, but meaning and purpose for the life He gives. Both that life and that purpose are in His Son, Jesus Christ, Who Himself came to fulfill the purpose of God that our lives might be filled with meaning and value.
If you want to receive His life and experience His purpose for you, then ask Jesus, the author of life, to take control of your life and receive the grace and forgiveness He gives. He will save you and set you on a path that will both fill your heart and fulfill His purpose for you.