“Meaningless, meaningless….everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
A thousand years before Christ, Israel’s wisest king decided to write a journal about his search for meaning in life. The man’s name was Solomon and the journal he kept is a book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes.
Although Solomon’s search for meaning involved many exciting adventures in education, it ultimately left him flat and disappointed. He felt ‘empty’ – at least that’s the meaning of the Hebrew word, hebel, which describes how he felt when he finished. “Meaningless, meaningless…everything is meaningless.” Prior to his adventure he was full of hope; after it was over, he felt empty.
But why? Why did his educational experience leave him feeling so low? As we search around for clues we need to understand Solomon’s mind-set as he began his quest. In his own words, he was looking at life from a perspective that was ‘under-the-sun’ (1:3, 14). This phrase, ‘under-the-sun’, is a code word which refers to a view of life, or worldview, from which God is deliberately excluded. He uses this expression frequently throughout the book. And because Solomon tried to find meaning in life without reference to God, he found that nothing really satisfied.
We should be pleased that we have the record of Solomon’s search for meaning. All around us are people who are buying into this empty, horizontal, ‘who-needs-God’ approach. The only world that they acknowledge is one that can be scientifically proven; their only frame of reference is strictly secular. And the result is that it leads them nowhere. Let’s not forget that Solomon tried everything in his educational experience – from philosophy, ethics, self-development, entertainment, architecture, the arts all the way to booze and sex. But none of it gave him a sense of ultimate satisfaction.
I suppose that we shouldn’t be surprised that Ecclesiastes is in the Bible. It reminds us what happens to our lives if we try to exclude God from the overall picture. As Solomon says, “I devoted my life to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! (Eccles 1:13). Typically, secularists blame God for the burdens we bear; however, the Bible tells us that the burdens we carry are due to our sin.
But there is hope. Although life is meaningless and empty apart from God, Jesus Christ says: “Come to Me, all who labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you” (Matthew 11:28). This is not simply an invitation to lay down the burden of sin; it’s also an educational invitation to refreshment. Indeed, the call to find refreshment in Christ is couched in explicitly educational terms. How do we know that? In verse 29 Jesus commands, “Put My yoke on you and learn from Me.” To ‘put on the yoke’ is an educational phrase well-known to the Jews (Lamentations 3:27). Jesus is telling us if we find life without purpose and that our study has led us nowhere, then we can find new life and direction from Him. We need to submit to His process of re-education. We need to turn away from humanism (‘you can make it on your own’), relativism (‘nothing is certain or true’) and experientialism (“you can only find out for yourself – usually the hard way’) and come to Christ to have life to the full.