Ecclesiastes is probably one of my favorite books of the Bible. The message is sobering and honest. Ecclesiastes offers its’ own summary: “vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” Literally, the Hebrew word used here is hevel, meaning something list mist, breath, or vapor. In other words “mist, mist, all is a mist.” Life is a mist. It’s here today, gone tomorrow. Yes, what I just said is utterly cliche. I get it. But, it’s true.
Last semester, one of the classes I served as an adjunct for was Poetic and Wisdom Literature. We used James Limburg’s Encountering Ecclesiastes. This fantastic little book packed quite a literary punch. He included a great deal of anecdotes from his own experience teaching Ecclesiastes. Here is one of my favorites. He said when he taught Ecclesiastes, to get his students to understand the concept of vanity, he would open a window, pull out a cigar, light it and then puff it. By the time he removed the cigar from his lips and the smoke evaporated, he said that smoke is hevel, and that is our life here. What a fantastic example. Like smoke which billows from a cigar smoking mouth which is here and gone, so is our life. This is the message of Ecclesiastes. How, then could it be a favorite?
Ecclesiastes is honest. I’m not a big fan of overly happy evangelicals. You know, evangelicals who never seem to go through the valleys. I don’t get it. How could this be the case? The call to follow Christ is the call to come and die (so said Dietrich Bonhoeffer). The call of the Christian life will be hard. Jesus warned us as such in John 16 where he says, “in this world you will have trouble.” However, just like John 16:33 doesn’t end on a sour note, neither does Ecclesiastes. This is why Ecclesiastes is a favorite!
Throughout the Teacher’s message in Ecclesiastes, there are rays of hope. Sure, he uses the phrase “a chasing after the wind” a lot (no, I have not attempted such a feat…. probably because it’s hevel). However, he also says “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.” (Ecc 2:24) He also says, “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” (Ecc. 8:15) See here are two examples when the Teacher’s honesty is refreshing. Essentially, he’s saying this: Yes, life is hard. This world is not as it ought to be (for his argument, see the bulk of Ecclesiastes). However, you have been given life and blessings. Enjoy them!
Yes! Enjoy them! Every good gift comes from above (James 1:17). How do you find meaning in the mist? You remember this mist is only temporary. This mist will one day give away to the new heavens and new earth which will be far more real than our present world. Maybe this is why Jesus’ body could pass through walls. Maybe its’ because our world here is the shadow and his new glorified body was more full and real than our world (I wish I could say I came up with that idea….. Gotta give my man, C.S. Lewis credit there). See, our toil here isn’t meaningless toil. Our work here may seem as mere mist at times, but according to Scripture, our lives are not in vain (1 Cor. 15). If this world was it, if after death came nothing, then absolutely, all we experience is utter meaninglessness. This simply isn’t the case. Our mist filled existence is only such because of humanities’ original rebellion against God. This rebellion will come to an end and final restoration will happen. This is good news for us misty meandering men.
How do we find meaning in the mist? We remember our days are given us by God for his glory and our good. We remember our jobs are not places of employment, but places of service and worship. Our families are not for our own advancement, but for our enjoyment. The gifts we’ve been given are good gifts from our good Father (James 1:17). In essence, our entire lives become utterly meaningful only in light of the cross. and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The person of Jesus Christ is the meaning we all desperately seek. Without Christ, we have multiple spheres of life (family, church, work, recreation, etc.). All this is meaningless. Under Jesus Christ, there is beautiful unity. Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together”
Meaning in the mist is found in Christ. In Him, all things hold together. Praise God!