Ecclesiastes presents itself in our Bibles between Proverbs and Song of Solomon, right in the Wisdom literature neighborhood, set near the Psalms. Its language arrests us because it is so stark.
Vanity, all is vanity; so goes the writer’s initial conclusions. This is the “way” of life, to live in empty pursuits that only beget more and more questions. The chapters of Ecclesiastes run like a stream of consciousness as the writer describes his adventures of exploration. He was after some answers, but those answers seemed to supply no comfort to him.
Mirth and merriment, scholarship and examination, buildings and business – this man tried all of these things. None of them amounted to much in his search for fulfillment.
What is it that we really need to know? Much wisdom brings much grief, more knowledge means more sorrow. This is the message of Ecclesiastes 1:18, and this becomes clearer and clearer as we page through these verses.
Too Much Information
Ours is an era of information overload. We know so much about so many things. Sadly, a lot of the information we collect relates to things trivial, to celebrity lifestyles, to nostalgic reminiscences, to political preferences and the like.
This lust to know is what fuels the popularity of a multitude of TV networks. Many hours are dedicated to various kinds of cooking competitions, to endless junkyard pursuits, to pawn shop practices, and to the ins and outs of home renovation and restoration. We see all manner of folks fighting it out for prizes and their 15 minutes of fame.
These are vain presentations for vain times.
Ecclesiastes is an important book of truth. Though its run of thoughts can sometimes seem hard to follow, these words are written to tell it like is. It is not a book of pessimism, but a book of realism.Empty pursuits -- surprise -- leave us empty. Click To Tweet
What Ecclesiastes gives us, I think, is a great description of what life is like when it is lived at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There, at that tree, no answer is ever good enough, nothing ever fully satisfies. The passages in Ecclesiastes bristle with the sense of frustration and futility the writer is feeling.
Empty pursuits — surprise — leave us empty.
Things Too Wonderful
One conclusion that is reached early in the book is that man is not made to know it all. He is just not equipped for it. “God has put eternity into men’s hearts, so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:10).
Consider Job. In his trials, Job demanded a meeting with the Lord. He wanted to face the Almighty and hear Him give an account for the sufferings he endured. When God revealed Himself, He stunned Job with a lengthy series of questions for which the man had no answers.
The end result was that Job chose to lay his hand over his mouth. He was chastened that he had spoken of things “too wonderful” for him (see Job 42).
“Great is the mystery of godliness,” Paul wrote at the start of 1 Timothy 3:16. He proceeded to include a type of hymn or creed: “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
This string of statements relates to the Person of Jesus Christ. These are some of the things that we really need to know and hold fast.
Straight Talk about Jesus
When we read the Bible, we find that there is really very little mystery about who and what Jesus claimed to be. He, in His own words, said He came from Heaven, that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one can come to the Father but by Him.
Do we really believe this? We have to answer this question for ourselves day after day.
The reality presented in the Word is that God Himself became one of us. He took on flesh and bone. He chose to get down into the dust, to be one of us, so He could make us one with Him. He lived His life in fulfillment of all of the Law and then laid it down for us, all of us, at the Cross. Beyond the Cross, He was resurrected and now has been received into glory.
These are the things worth knowing.
Here’s something else worth knowing: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever would believe would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
The Whole Truth
Ecclesiastes ends with one magnificent conclusion: the whole of man is to fear God and follow His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). All the thoughts collected there set up this one supreme truth – the fear of the Lord is the key to all knowing.
Do you seek to be whole? Do you long to be fulfilled? Honor God and love Him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus pointed to these the basic commandments as ultimate guides for living (see Mark 12:28-31).
Mystery? It seems to be that this is more of man’s making. The worldly ways of thinking bring complication and confusion. Yes, God is eternal and hides much about Himself and Creation from us. The secret things do belong to Him (Deuteronomy 29:29).
However, God hasn’t left us in the dark about the most important thing of all, and He says it like this: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).
So simple. So clear. Believe this and receive it.
For more about God and how He loves us, listen to “The Mystery of Godliness – Seated in Glory,” a message from Thomas Schaller, Pastor of Greater Grace Church of Baltimore.