The Quest for Meaning – Part 2

There is no meaning of life.  That’s the opening assertion in the book of Ecclesiastes.  (If you haven’t read it start with, The Quest for Meaning – Part 1)

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

But who is “the Teacher” and what, exactly does he mean?

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-15)

Although the book is anonymous, most believe King Solomon is likely the author; certainly he was the “king over Israel in Jerusalem” who fits the best.  You may recall he asked God for, and was granted, extraordinary wisdom.  As King, he had the wealth, power and leisure to really pursue the answer to the meaning of life.

The word translated, meaningless, originally meant vapor or emptiness, something that makes no lasting difference, or something hard to grasp.  It’s a tough word to translate (some use the word, vanity, which is equally awkward) but his phrase, “a chasing after the wind” gives us a pretty clear feel for it.  Donovan sang, “I may as well try and catch the wind,” meaning, it’s utterly pointless.  But is life utterly pointless or meaningless?  Pay close attention to the words underlined above, “under the heavens” and “under the sun.”  He means, when observed from the perspective of mortals stuck here on earth…

…Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 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.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.  (Ecclesiastes 1:2b-11)

Our first reaction to such pessimism might be to suggest Prozac.  The man is clinically depressed.  We at least want to argue with a few of his conclusions.  But ponder what he said and your reaction to it.  Then, come back in a couple days.  To find meaning, we need a better vantage point.

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