Discovering Life in the Mystery: Chill Out
DISCOVERING LIFE IN THE MYSTERY
Unlocking Ecclesiastes - CHILL OUT!
Last week we finished studying a passage of Scripture written by the most significant King in the history of the Jewish people. His name was David. When David was nearing his death, he appointed one of his sons to be King.
That son's name was Solomon and he picked up where his dad left off and led Israel into tremendous financial prosperity. Solomon’s success was known worldwide, so much so that people came from around the world to listen to his wisdom.
Solomon was truly a man of great accomplishments, but in all his greatness there was a huge void within him; something within him that never understood who he truly was and why he truly existed; that never truly understood this thing called life that he was living.
At some point, everybody tries to figure out what life is all about. To try and explain why all this exists, and more importantly, why we exist. In the search for “why,” we are ultimately looking for some way to feel like we matter; some purpose that we feel makes our existence worth existing.
As we walk down the hallway of life we walk through open doors and even force ourselves through closed doors to try and experience something that makes it all makes sense; that makes it all feel worthwhile; to try and find meaning; to try and feel like we matter, and ultimately to try and understand what the point of this thing called life is!
King Solomon was no different than anybody else in this search for meaning, except that unlike most, he committed himself fully to it. He refused to just accept things as they were. He went through every door open and searched every room to try and understand life; to try and find some purpose that would in the end make everything worth it!
He truly poured himself into this effort and somewhere in the latter days of his life, he wrote down what he discovered. That report is the book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes.
Millenniums later, Ecclesiastes is a book that is still being read by philosophy students all over the world. Among the truly ancient writings on the subject, none is more preserved, and none is more thorough in its practicality. It is not the typical philosophical search through the nuances of language and logic, but a report on a real-life experiment.
It is certainly filled with genuinely deep reflections and logical ponderings, but at its core, it deals with the questions philosophers have pondered for thousands and thousands of years through highly relevant propositions and tests. He takes the question out of the academic classroom and researches it not in a library, but in the actual playground of life; in the actual realities that life takes place and thus where an answer must be applied and experienced.
I believe this is why it is so widely read; why it’s not just a text for Jews and Christians, but a book that people from all sorts of religious beliefs have taken the time to read and consider. It is a book that is going to walk us into every possible door that life presents us. Every door takes you into an experience that every one of us will try and find meaning.
But, and this is a huge “but,” in all of Solomon’s efforts and considerations, he didn’t have access to a door that you and I have; that is he couldn’t see it yet! The outline of it was there for him, but there was no way for him to open it.
It was a mysterious door on his journey that He would no doubt want to go through, but he couldn’t. It’s a door that God was using Solomon to get ready for you and I, but as such, it was a door that wasn’t available to him. What is that door?
7 So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:7-10)
As we go with Solomon on his journey to try and find the purpose and meaning of life, we go on this journey with him with the knowledge that Solomon didn’t have! We are on the side of history where the mystery has been revealed! We have a door to go through that gives us an experience that Solomon longed for but didn’t have.
Therefore, as we take this journey with Solomon and walk with him into each room, each experience, and each conclusion; it’s vital that we then see how the Gospel fills in all the blanks! It’s vital that we see the room through the eyes of Solomon because frankly, it’s the way every one of us is going to want to see the room as well.
But then we must put the knowledge of the Gospel squarely in front of us so the light that reveals all truth can shine on our hearts and minds and do what no observation or philosophy of man is capable of doing – lead us into life!
Solomon comes right out of the gate telling us the conclusion of his search for purpose, meaning, and value in this thing called life. He writes,
1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
“The writer twice uses what is equivalent to a superlative which means, everything in life is to the greatest degree vanity.”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (pp. 709–710). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co. [/note]
“Utterly meaningless” = vanity of vanities, a phrase that communicates the idea of superlative quality. E.g., “song of songs” = the finest song; “King of kings” = the greatest king; hence, “vanity of vanities” = futility in the highest imaginable degree!”[note]Storms, S. (2016). Biblical Studies: Ecclesiastes (Ec 1:2). Edmond, OK: Sam Storms. [/note]
“The word “vanity” (hebhel) is used thirty-nine times in the book. The word means primarily “a breath” or “vapor” such as one might see when exhaled breath condenses on a cold day. The word is used poetically of all that is fleeting, perishable, transitory, frail and unsatisfying. In this context the word suggests the futility of human effort. The rest of the book is a commentary on this verse. In asserting that “all is vanity” the writer is referring to things mundane and human. Man’s works, not God’s works, are vain (1:2).”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 710). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co. [/note]
He is going to spend the entire rest of the book fleshing out that statement; attempting to prove to us the reader that every door we walk through in this world, no matter how much happiness we experience in it; will ultimately result in us feeling the same void we had before we walked into it.
He is going to tell us about his journey into every one of those doors and ultimately what every one of us will find if we go through them. It is not simply an opportunity to learn from somebody who has already been there but to look at it from an even better perspective, that is to see Solomon’s experiences, observations, and conclusions with the light of the gospel; to see it through the experience of going through The Door that Solomon never got to go through!
So what’s the first door, what’s the first room that Solomon takes us in to prove his point that all is vanity.
The first door has to do with all the effort we put into work and living. The labor and burden that is put on us in life as well as the labors and burden we volunteer ourselves for to try and experience life! In verse three Solomon asks,
3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
In other words,
Solomon’s Question – Is there any real profit in the stressful efforts of life? (1:3)
“Gain” refers literally to what is left over (a gain or a profit) or metaphorically to what is advantageous or of benefit.”[note]Glenn, D. R. (1985). Ecclesiastes. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 980). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. [/note]
“Gain” - “The term “profit” [(gain)] (yithron) appears nowhere else in the Old Testament, but ten times in this book. It literally means “that which remains.” The word seems to come from the business community. It may have been used to describe the surplus which remained on the balance sheet after all the assets and liabilities where taken into account. The point is that when all the pluses and minuses are taken into account, the balance sheet of life indicates a dismal zero, or perhaps even a negative figure.”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 710). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.
Solomon’s 4 reasons for saying there are no worthwhile gains from all the stress we put on ourselves:
You do all this work only to die and get replaced. (1:4)
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
“The first fact Solomon cited in support of his thesis is the impermanence of a person’s existence. In contrast with the earth, the scene of one’s labor, which remains (lit., “stands”) forever, every person is a transitory being, a small part of the coming and going generations.”[note]Glenn, D. R. (1985). Ecclesiastes. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 980). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.[/note]
“Here the transitory character of mankind is contrasted with the permanence of the earth. We fancy ourselves immortal; but we pass away as do all generations and the earth lingers on. The stage is still there, but all the actors die. “The earth, methodically plodding along in its routine course, does not skip a beat of its rhythm to celebrate a man’s birth nor to mourn his death” (GTJ, 38).”[note]Storms, S. (2016). Biblical Studies: Ecclesiastes (Ec 1:4). Edmond, OK: Sam Storms. [/note]
In other words, you get all stressed out thinking the world is dependent on you, or at least the world around you, but when you die, the world doesn’t stop spinning! Another generation comes along, and the earth keeps going around like it always has.
At my death, the world, nor the generations of the earth to come, will skip a beat. They will feel no lasting impact of my loss. Just as every day is replaced with another at the same rate every other day has been replaced, so too will I, so why in the world do we convince ourselves that the world is somehow dependent on us and our actions!
You do all this work only to look up and see more … it keeps coming! (1:5-8)
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. 8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
“The second fact Solomon cited in support of his thesis is the ineffectiveness of labor, demonstrated by nature’s ceaseless activity.”[note]Glenn, D. R. (1985). Ecclesiastes. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 980). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. [/note]
“The creation is a hub-ub of activity, but seemingly devoid of progress. All is but a symbol of monotony.”[note]Storms, S. (2016). Biblical Studies: Ecclesiastes (Ec 1:5–7). Edmond, OK: Sam Storms. [/note]
“Each of these figures points to repetitive, ceaseless, wearisome, restless activity with no conclusion or finality or resolution or consummation. Such uniformity and regularity ultimately breed monotony and thus become tiring.”[note]Storms, S. (2016). Biblical Studies: Ecclesiastes (Ec 1:7). Edmond, OK: Sam Storms. [/note]
“Solomon argued that what is observable in the rounds of nature is also true of all human endeavor”[note]Glenn, D. R. (1985). Ecclesiastes. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 980). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. [/note]
Solomon is trying to put work into proper perspective. He’s not saying don’t work hard but what he is saying is you need to understand, tomorrow it starts all over and it will do so every day of your life! No matter how stressed out you get from trying to bring everything to resolve and fix everything, the needs around you that require your effort will be there tomorrow.
They will have at least the same weight that they were here today. So it makes no sense to get stressed over it thinking you can fix it all and be done with it; that somehow if you make all the right decisions all the burdens of work and toil will be resolved! Chill out!
You do all this work and never truly change anything. (1:9-15)
9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"? It has been already in the ages before us.
“This is not a comment on mankind’s mechanical inventiveness. The teacher does not deny that new ideas for improving life, new expressions of reality, new gadgets or whatever are constantly appearing. He simply says that try as we might to invent and to find, our efforts at finding something new under the sun whereby to unlock the meaning to life forever fail.”[note]Storms, S. (2016). Biblical Studies: Ecclesiastes (Ec 1:9–10). Edmond, OK: Sam Storms. [/note]
This is an answer to his central question of what does a man ultimately gain; not in the ability to produce wealth, power, etc., but what do those entities ultimately gain you? The development of a new weapon is still a weapon, a new fortress a fortress, a new pleasure a pleasure, the discovery of knowledge is still knowledge; the specific may be something newly discovered but it is merely another item of the same end that at best leads to more of what already exists and as such, no more of what doesn’t – in this instance a key to making sense of life.
11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
“Despite the monuments we erect and the endowments we leave behind, eventually the dust of time will cover them all.”[note]Storms, S. (2016). Biblical Studies: Ecclesiastes (Ec 1:11). Edmond, OK: Sam Storms. [/note]
Mankind still commits all the same sins and mistakes. We don’t learn! Despite all that we have, we still don’t exercise any of the knowledge of 10,000 years of human history. Bitterness, immorality, jealousy, materialism, greed, gossip, fits of anger, selfishness; and the list goes on and on.
We have knowledge of what all that does but we still do it. The idea that man is evolving to a higher and higher moral state is fundamentally false. We just relocate our shortcomings to different rooms!
Solomon then takes us deeper into the nature and conclusion of his exploration.
12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. 15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
“He “set” or fixed his “heart.” In Hebrew psychology the heart was the seat, not only of affections, but of the understanding and intellectual faculties generally. To set the heart would be equivalent to setting the mind to the task.”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 713). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co. [/note]
“The task at hand was “to seek” (darash) and “to search out” (tur) the mysteries of life. The first verb implies penetrating into the depth of an object; the second, taking a comprehensive survey of matters further away. The terms do not refer so much to the gathering of data as to a careful analysis of existing facts. The instrument by which these researches would be conducted was “wisdom.” He would not be content merely to collect facts; he wished to investigate the causes and conditions of things of the world.”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 713). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co. [/note]
“In fact they are as useless as chasing after the wind, a graphic picture of effort expended with no results gained since no one can catch the wind by running after it. Solomon used this phrase nine times, all in the first half of the book (1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 6:9).”[note]Glenn, D. R. (1985). Ecclesiastes. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 981). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. [/note]
“One specific example of the frustrations of the quest for wisdom is pointed out in v. 15. Man cannot change the course of events by the utmost exercise of his powers and faculties. Life presents many problems which the keenest intellect cannot explain nor rectify. “What is crooked cannot be straightened.” The reference is not to man’s sinful actions, but to the perplexities in which all men find themselves. “What is lacking cannot be counted.” The greatest mathematician cannot add figures which do not exist. So the wisdom of man cannot supply the defects which come to notice when he examines life (1:15).”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 714). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co. [/note]
In other words, it’s not only illogical to be stressed out thinking you can finish all the work that is needed, that is, somehow if you just work hard enough and smart enough you will be done; it’s also equally illogical to think that if you just work hard enough and smart enough you can somehow heal the planet and make everything wrong become right!
You can’t; so stop living as if you can! The world is going to be just as jacked up and sinful tomorrow as it is today – no matter how stressed you get over trying to change it! You are not the answer or hope for your family, friends, or the world!
So once again, Solomon is saying there is literally no sense in letting ourselves get all outraged and stressed out – chill out!
You do all this work to gain knowledge and wisdom only to find that it to brings stress! (1:16-18)
16 I said in my heart, "I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge." 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. 18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. (1:16-18)
This is not to suggest in a way that gaining knowledge and wisdom is a bad thing, it just doesn’t take away the stress of life! What he’s saying is this, if being ignorant and foolish brings stress (which it most certainly does!), then what a letdown to find out that the painstaking acquisition of knowledge and wisdom also brings stress! Listen to the comments of two scholars on this final reason to chill out,
“Wisdom is good and is to be pursued at all costs (see Proverbs!), but ultimately it is unable to overcome life’s inequities.” (Storms) [note]Storms, S. (2016). Biblical Studies: Ecclesiastes (Ec 1:18). Edmond, OK: Sam Storms. [/note]
“Increased wisdom is frustrating. The more one knows of men’s lives, the greater is the cause of grief over the incomplete and unsatisfactory nature of all human endeavors. “He who increases knowledge increases sorrow,” not in others, but in himself. Exploratory surgery often reveals the most unpleasant realities. So increased knowledge leads a person to find out many disturbing things that may produce “vexation” or irritation (ka˓as), i.e., may disturb his peace of mind. “Sorrow” also grows out of getting more knowledge, for knowledge brings with it a realization that many things in the world are hopelessly bent out of shape. The wise man becomes ever more conscious of the scope of his ignorance and impotence, of the uncontrollable power of nature, of great evils which he is powerless to remedy. To a certain extent, ignorance is bliss (1:18).” (Smith) [note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (pp. 715–716). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.
So, on the one hand, Solomon says there is no reason to be stressed out, which is a great conclusion, but he’s saying the reason to not be stressed out over stress is that stress is always going to be there so just get over it! As true as that is, there is not much hope in that and there is certainly no help in that!
I mean, the person feeling the weight of leading their home, the weight of supplying for the family, the weight of leading a child to live a manner worthy of the name of Christ and as such a manner that will bless them. As a person dealing with all the weight life brings, all we get from Solomon’s experience is that there is no reason to be stressed out over the stress, but he offers no pathway to not be.
Don’t you love it when people tell you to stop feeling the way you feel, as if it is a switch, you can just switch off and on. For our feelings to change we need something that empowers us to feel differently. For life to not overwhelm with its stress and burdens we need more than an observation that life is always going to be that way.
I told you in the beginning that we have something Solomon didn’t have. We have the Gospel. So how does the Gospel help us?
Gospel Hope: Christ agreed that all this world has to offer is tribulation, but IN HIM we have peace! (John 16:33)
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
The context of this verse is the persecution that will come to all who follow Jesus. But the statement of Jesus that “in the world, you will have tribulation” is exactly what Solomon was saying. He could in no way find a way out of tribulation and therefore concluded there was no reason to be worried about it.
However, Jesus said something Solomon couldn’t have known yet, Jesus said I’ve shared with you the truth, and consequently He is going to do something (what that truth was about) so that “in me, you may have peace.”
Listen, in Christ, we literally experience peace and peace is the opposite of stress! Peace is to be chilled out! In knowing Christ, we are equipped with a real relationship that truly brings peace! Certainly, the knowledge of eternal life that is made clear by Christ’s resurrections gives us a reason for peace.
The knowledge of God’s love for us that is revealed in Christ gives us a reason for peace. The knowledge that we are eternally forgiven and secure as sons and daughters of God through the death burial and resurrection of Jesus gives us peace. But all that culminates into what ultimately gives us genuine, real peace in the midst of all the stress and tribulation of life.
A real genuine active relationship with Jesus is what overshadows all the turmoil of our life and literally brings us peace! When we are actually living in that relationship, loving being loved by Him and basking in Him, the stresses of this world don’t go away, they are just overcome because we are with the one who overcame them!
So, let’s get honest. If you claim to be a follower of Christ who can’t chill out, who can’t experience peace, then you need to know that you may indeed be a Christian, but you are most certainly not abiding in Christ. You are absolutely not seeking to know and love Him with all your heart.
You are not living your life in a genuine relationship with Him. Stop lying to yourself and the world around you and face the facts that you have not truly let go of your efforts to be the rescuer of the world around you and as such fell at the feet of Jesus to just know Him!