Our culture is obsessed with the acquisition of material goods and worldly status. However, in the race to attain these temporal things, people forget to pursue spiritual riches. When we spend the best days of our lives chasing after fame or wealth, then we are to be pitied, for in the end, nothing of lasting value will be ours. "Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless."(Ecclesiastes 1:2)
Unlike many of the popular writers of the "lost generation" of the 1920s who reflected a world stripped of God, Solomon is not writing as a stoic or nihilist. He is simply describing a truth that has been lost in our own time: The world is nothing more than a wasteland without God. "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." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
When the purpose of life is reduced to satisfying the appetites of the body, we ultimately discover that the appetites are insatiable and, like a fire out of control, they never have enough. Solomon explains how futile it is to only strive after things of this world: "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)
Looking back over the course of his long life, Solomon realized that he had lost his way when he turned to pursuing pleasure as the primary purpose of life. For no matter how much wealth he accumulated, no matter how many buildings he built or goods he possessed, the thirst could never be quenched, nor the appetite ever satisfied.
What is man without God? The long, sorry history of mankind wandering in the wilderness of godlessness is perfectly summarized in the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. It is a brutal picture, but we deny the truth of it at our own peril: "...since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Romans 1:28-32)
Man apart from God is a profoundly lost creature is evoked in T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men." If you remove the Christianity of Christ from life and describe raw existence as it really is, life is much like the hard service of a hired hand, as Job describes it (Job 7:1–5).
In a world where Jesus never existed, one would be forced to adopt a strategy based on either hedonism or its reverse, stocism. Life in such a world would indeed be nasty, brutish and short.
But in a world where Christ lives through the Holy Spirit, the issue of hard service and suffering is transformed into something quite different. Christ asks those who serve to be strong and persevere, whatever the circumstance. He does not teach those who follow that life will be a romp in the park; quite the reverse for he says in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven...." (Matthew 5:11-12)
Despite the suffering and conflict in an unredeemed world, we are called to service through faith. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:8-9) Perhaps knowing what it meant to be a 1st century Christian would be a good place to start for a sojourner navigating through a world characterized by Paul as "a crooked and depraved generation."(Philippians 2:15)
Eric Kampmann received an undergraduate degree from Brown University and a graduate degree in English at Stony Brook. Eric is the author of two other books: Tree of Life (2003) and The Book Publisher’s Handbook (2007). For information on his newest book, Trail Thoughts, visit: Trail Thoughts