These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem. “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”
What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. (NLT)
If you feel like a bit of cheering up, perhaps choose another book of the Bible to start your day! The writer of this book is not of the type who figures we all need to powder our face with sunshine and put on a great big smile.
Then again, it is unfair to accuse him of being all doom and gloom. The writer is likely Solomon, who was reflecting on the illusory nature of so much of what we value. Power, wealth, success, popularity. He reckoned none of these in and of themselves made life meaningful. In thinking like this, he is neither an optimist nor a pessimist. He is a biblical realist.
Our temperaments determine how much optimism and pessimism shape our characters. Our upbringing can determine how we see things. Optimists and pessimists are not lying when they report how they see the facts in front of them. Each sees different aspects. As the old saying goes, the optimist sees the doughnut whereas the pessimist sees the hole!
Optimists proclaim that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Pessimists fear that this is true! Each has a point. Followers of Jesus are to rejoice in the good things of this world and yet mourn over its brokenness. We value ourselves and others as worthwhile human beings while at the same time being deeply aware of how we fall short of who we were made to be.
We define ourselves not by optimism or pessimism but by hope. And hope suggests that we have a bright future even as there are shadows over our present.