Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. —Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 (NIV)
The passage was taped into my dad’s notebook planner. We never knew it was there; it was discovered by my mom and sister after he passed. I’ve never given Ecclesiastes much thought as a book in the Biblical canon. I’m sure I’ve had an occasional dose of it throughout years of sermons and devotions, mostly in the patter of “there is a time for everything…” but the book never particularly resonated or remained with me. Well, when a passage of Scripture is found taped inside a departed loved one’s personal belongings, it causes one to take notice.
By our request, the passage from Ecclesiastes was included in the sermon text for my dad’s funeral. It was all too fitting, not just to put life into perspective at a funeral, but also because it was apparent that such philosophy guided my dad in his business, family, and philanthropic life. In context of the entire book of Ecclesiastes, it becomes all the more profound and humbling; especially to a young artist and professional seeking to find balance and success with ambitions for this life.
The writer of Ecclesiastes (a successful man in earthly terms, and identified most likely as King Solomon) states, in a nutshell, that everything in this mortal life is meaningless, so enjoy it as a gift from God our creator. “Meaningless! Meaningless! …Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless,” is the opening of the first chapter, and that just about sums up the entire book. The sun will continue its revolution, the waters will continue their cycle, but as mortal men our toils and pleasures are meaningless and we will return, forgotten, to the dust from which we came.
In this modern life, apparently no different than those in the ancient world, we humans get so wrapped up in our own ambitions, achievements, riches, titles, and mark we seek to make on this Earth that we lose sight of how meaningless it all is. Another translation opens the first verse of Ecclesiastes with “Vanity! Vanity!” That’s what our ambition for greatness is. Meaningless vanity.
As I search and struggle, juggling careers, seeking financial security, attempting artistic significance, this book came in divine timing with my father’s passing; a reminder that everything is meaningless, everything is mere vanity. So let us enjoy this life! Whatever we do, do it with all our might! Let us use our creative talents to serve our Creator, let us enjoy this Earth; but let us not do it for the sake of vanity. The pleasures of this world are a gift from God, but our true reward is not of this world.
Ecclesiastes: in a paradox, this book allows the Christian to enjoy labor and life more by showing us how meaningless it truly is. Meaningless! Meaningless! A chasing after the wind…