And it reads: What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
These words recorded by a seemingly very somber Solomon, sometimes do not sound like they come from someone who believes in God. In fact, the words that are found in this book actually sound like they come from the mind of someone who has lost all hope, who is depressed, who has given up on life. Solomon's words throughout this book ring of someone who is searching for the meaning of life but unable to find it. If you read this book very closely, you will see that there is something wrong with Solomon.
Solomon on many occasions in this book talks about the futility of life -- how things seem to have no meaning and are pointless. He talks about how nothing will ever change, that man's journey through this life is a series of meaningless experiences after all, because none of it matters when you die anyway.
Solomon says he searches for pleasure in a world full of pain, newness in a world that has gone stale, excitement in a world of boredom, wisdom in a world of the unwise. He laments his conditions like he lost his best friend or favorite lover. And he keeps coming back to the statement that life is meaningless.
I think of all the major Old Testament figures, Solomon gets the worst treatment of all. As the son of the great King David, Solomon has some pretty big shoes to fill. His father was a legend in his time. Notorious for his military wisdom and for his devotion to God. But David was human like everyone else and faltered a little here and there. When David, because of his humanity, was not allowed by God to give God what David wanted to give, it fell to Solomon.
Scripture suggests that Solomon was already pretty wise on his own. Maybe it came from watching the sins of his father. Once Solomon acquired ultimate wisdom from God, he went on to become as great a King as his father. Solomon had untold wealth, the respect of the people all across the land of Jerusalem and from countries near and far. Solomon has more women that any one man could even dream of. And Solomon was the temple builder. He built temples so grand and so great that they are still considered marvels of architecture. Solomon took David's army and improved upon it, creating one of the mightiest armies this planet had ever seen, maybe except for Alexander.
Solomon's intelligence is borne out in what is found in the Bible. Not only is he the author of this book, although some may disagree with that assessment, but the writings of Solomon are found in the book of Psalms and Proverbs, and of course, the Song of Solomon. In fact, there are several passages of Ecclesiastes that read almost identical to the book of Proverbs.
One has to wonder what was going through Solomon's mind when he created this book. This was a man who had everything the world had to offer at the time. Any need he had could be instantly satisfied, and desire instantly met. There was nothing that was out of his reach. But yet, the words that we read sound as if a man who has nothing at all.
Solomon's pessimistic attitude towards life is reflected in our current society. How many times after going through what we thought was a tragic or traumatic experience have we questioned life and our role in it? How many times have each of us wondered why we are being made to endure such hardships and such trials and travails, only to die when it is all over? How many of us have thought, why bother since we all die at the end anyway?
While we do not know what was going through Solomon's mind, we can reflect on our own experiences. The things that got us down, that caused us to cry out for help, to search for answers, to question all of the things that we know or thought we know -- all of these things make us what we are. In the times when things seem darkness, it is those times we question what we know.
And the sad part, it is often the petty things that get us down. We find ourselves getting upset at the things that really, in the grand scheme of things, do not matter a tiny bit. We get easily frustrated and in our frustration, we act out of character, get upset at friends and family for no reason, justified to ourselves because someone or something is not going the way that we want.
And then we let those things grow and fester, like a weed in the garden. We allow ourselves to be consumed by self-doubt and self-loathing, thinking that these petty little things are the worst thing to ever happen to us. We have no patience. There are those of us who claim a belief in God, but when it comes to little things getting us upset, we don't even know who God is.
The problem, as I see it, is that we spend so much time on the little stuff, that when the big stuff happens, the stuff we are supposed to get upset at and the stuff that we are supposed to actively seek out the problems for, we don't have the energy to deal with because we wasted that energy on nonsense. Sure, we can go on and on about those things, and describe in great detail how bad things are, but when it comes to developing solutions to these problems, to conquering our fears, to finding a definite meaning to our lives, we are lost.
There is a saying that I am very fond of which says "Don't sweat the small stuff, it's all small stuff." And what that statement has always meant to me is that none of it truly matters. Not to say that nothing in life is important, because obviously a great deal many things are. But what this says to me is that the things that we give the most attention which does not involve the health of our families, our own personal health or other critical issues, are not that big deal. I have seen people get so bent out of shape while driving a car, that I wondered what was going through their minds.
Like I said, I do not know what was going through the mind of Solomon when he wrote what he wrote. Obviously, he was depressed and searching for answers that his wisdom from God could not come up with. We know from scripture that Solomon was for most of his life a devout and somewhat holy man. He was a man who held a firm belief in God, knowing what greatness and mercy God had to offer. We know that Solomon was a person who was himself committed to building of the kingdom of God on earth, hence the reason he created such beautiful temples.
But we also know that Solomon was not perfect. We know that Solomon turned his back on God. We also know that Solomon with all of his wisdom had not received the promise of salvation, since it was not readily available at that time. Despite being the descendant of one of the greatest kings on earth, and being a progenitor of the savior of man, Solomon went his own way and did his own thing.
His writings suggest that he found no real meaning in life. Despite all his personal experience with God, despite all of his wealth and fortune and fame, there was little in life that Solomon found appealing. He writes that there is nothing new in this world, that every that has happened will happen again and everything that has yet to come, came already.
But Solomon, in his wisdom, realizes that there is a constant in the universe, in the world that we live. That constant is God. That God is the maker of all things, the creator of everything we see, hear, taste and touch. That it is God who makes all things possible. But in spite of his recognition of this fact, and despite the fact that Solomon knows that God is not only real but alive, he still questions not only his existence, but the existence of those around him.
Solomon wrote that he watches people, watches how they act and react to things and situations, and he still finds no meaning in it. However, he does recognize the fact that God is God over all, and that we should be mindful to keep God in our actions and in our mind set. That we should continue to acknowledge God in all of our works, and that we should work for the good of him that created us.
So this begs the question, if nothing is new and everything is meaningless, why continue? I am not a bible literalist, meaning I do not believe that everything in the bible is meant to be taken literally. I do believe that there are some things that are meant for interpretation. And in keeping with that, I also believe that it is okay to disagree with certain things that are in the Bible. As a result, I do not agree with Solomon's pessimistic assessment that life is meaningless. I do not agree that everything we do is for naught, since we die anyway. Instead, I think life is for the living and worth living. I think that God put us on this earth and allowed us to be born, to grow and to prosper for a very specific reason. Now we may not always know the reason, and in some cases we may never know. But there is a purpose to our lives.
At the beginning of a New Year, we all take time to examine our lives. To look at what we did right and wrong, to look at what we would like to do different. Solomon says that there is nothing new. Well, there is nothing new for God, but to man, every moment is something new. Each moment that we live is filled with the possibility of new joys, new hopes, new dreams, new possibilities. Every moment we live is filled with the hope of something new happening to us, even though it may have happened to someone else already. The New Year is a time for us to be optimistic in our lives. It is a time for us to start off with the proverbial clean slate. Casting off the mistakes and the anger and the disappointments of what happened and look forward to a year of possibilities and successes in the New.
So while Solomon does accurately say that there is nothing new on this earth, that does not ring true. For Solomon, with all of his wisdom, could see past the regularities of life and see what was not easily apparent to the average man. And while we should all strive to posses Solomon-like wisdom, we should not lose sight that life is indeed worth living.
But as his writings continue, Solomon keeps returning to the fact that he thinks people should enjoy life, even though he views it as meaningless. That we should enjoy the food we eat and the drinks we drink. That we should enjoy the pleasure of our fellow man and woman, and that we should sample and enjoy all life has to offer.
And maybe that is the important lesson in this book. That we should enjoy life. That we should not let the petty and the minor things obscure our view of life and the world. That we should have more patience when dealing with ourselves and others. That we should be enjoying what God has given us, taking each day as a new possibility and a new opportunity to serve God and to build His kingdom. That each day gives an opportunity to teach someone younger than us, that each day gives the opportunity to experience something that only God can provide for us.
Yes, life is worth living. There is meaning to life. And there are some things that are new. And with each new day comes the potential for a new blessing from God. So while it is easy to get down on ourselves and beat ourselves up for what we haven't done or what we haven't seen, we should remember that everything that is done does have a purpose, and that ultimate purpose should be to glorify the kingdom of Heaven. That we should be living our lives in accordance with the grace that we received in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That we were promised a meaningful, productive life, as long as we have Jesus. That through Jesus, we can experience endless possibilities. That though the promise made to us by Jesus, that he would never leave or forsake us, that he would be in the midst of us, even where there is only 2 or 3 of us gathered, that he would be with us until the end of time, that gives life meaning.
So in this new year, we should embrace all life has to offer. We should strive to walk closer with God, to be better to our family and friends, to learn and grow in grace, to take the gifts that God has given us to use them for the common good. We should work to have more patience, more understanding, more hope, more joy, more love. This New Year is worth living because God made it so. God made the year, he made the months and the days, therefore, there is meaning to it.
We are currently living in a time of great excitement and great change. A time of possibilities that are endless. A time unlike any in modern history. Maybe for someone like Solomon with all his wisdom there was nothing to be excited about, but for us, who are living this life for the first time and are experiencing things on a first hand basis, for us who cannot see past this mortal life, this is a time for hope. This is a time to embrace life and live it to the fullest. Scripture says don't worry about tomorrow because tomorrow may never come. Tomorrow will take care of itself. And while each moment we live brings us closer to death and closer to glory, each moment we live also bring us the possibility of new experiences and new opportunities.
This year, we should be excited about the fact that there is a God in heaven who creates these opportunities, a God who loves us and who cares about us and takes care of us, even in those times when we cannot take care of ourselves. That there is a God who walks with us, who talks to us, who listens to our prayers. That there is a God who has told us that He will not forsake us. That there is a God who wants us to be successful, to have happiness, to enjoy the life that He gave us. Life is indeed for the living, and God wants us to live and to be happy. That there is a God who loves us more than we can ever imagine. A God who protects us. A God who gave us life. And with that life He gave us His son, so that we might live life and live it more abundantly.
We have a God who wants us to experience love and joy and hope. We have a God who wants us to laugh and smile and enjoy what we have. We have a God who is capable of giving us the very best in life. Of giving us all of the riches both here on earth and on heaven. A God who thought enough of us to sacrifice his son for us that we all might live a better life. And as a result, there is meaning in that life. There is meaning in the lives that we lead. There is meaning in this life, right here and right now.
And while Solomon, in his writing, found life to be meaningless, I find life to have great meaning. We have great work to do. We have many things to experience and accomplish. And the best way to do that is with God. The best way to do that is with Jesus.
Return to The Sermon Experience
Return to my homepage
(Charles E. Smoot © 2000-2009, all rights reserved)