I have a soft spot for Ecclesiastes; it was the first book of Bible I read all the way through. I was 19, and I was asking the big questions: ‘Why are we here? What is life for?' I was convinced that the ‘rat race' wasn't the answer: leave school, get a job, get a wife, get a house, have kids, retire, die. What's it all for? What does it all mean? Does it matter anyway?
Ecclesiastes asks those same questions: ‘What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun?' (v3) Everything is meaningless (v2); there's nothing new under the sun (v9). Trying to work out what is all means is like chasing after the wind (v17) – you'll never catch it!
This opening chapter sounds a bit depressing, doesn't it? And yet it spoke very powerfully to me. Most of the book assumes the perspective of someone with no knowledge or experience of God. Without God, life is indeed ultimately meaningless. What's the point? Thankfully, the end of the book explains that there is a better way of viewing and experiencing life: we must remember our Creator, and fear God and keep his commandments (12:1, 13). The writer of Ecclesiastes is aware of the emptiness and futility that result when we push God out, and close our ears, eyes and minds to him.
The New Testament reveals Jesus as the one ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge' (Col. 2:3). We can only find true meaning and purpose in him. Through the gospel, we have been set free from the meaninglessness and futility of a godless life, and brought close to the one who is the source of all truth, beauty, goodness and wisdom.
Paul speaks in Eph. 4:18 of the futile thinking of those who reject God. ‘They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.' Life without God can be, at best, only superficially satisfying. Many non-Christians would claim to be generally happy and satisfied, but only because they have not tasted the goodness of God (Ps. 34:8). The god of this age has blinded their minds so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4).
Why are we here? Because God put us here to know, love and serve him. Jesus came that we may have life in all its fullness, that we may be redeemed from emptiness and futility. I love Ecclesiastes! Through reading it, God led me from the emptiness of the ‘rat race', into the fullness of Christ. Pray Ephesians 3:14-19 for yourself and those you love – the love of Christ is huge!