Read Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
1 These are the words of the Teacher,King David’s son,who ruled in Jerusalem.
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher,”completely meaningless!”
3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go,but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets,then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south,and then turns north. Around and around it goes,blowing in circles. 7 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. 8 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.
9 History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. 10 Sometimes people say,”Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. 11 We don’t remember what happened in the past,and in future generations,no one will remember what we are doing now. (NLT)
There is some debate about who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. Whoever it was,we can be tempted to refer to him as ‘old misery guts’. Here is a man who is never going to be swept away by irrational optimism. Here is someone who reckons there is a cloud behind every silver lining. So why does he get space in God’s Bible? Simply because he tells us what life is like if we leave God out of life. He plays the ‘bad cop’ in the ‘good cop bad cop’ routine.
It is a scathing comment on materialism: the belief that this immediate sensory world is all there is,that it matters most. It is not bitter cynicism that causes the writer to conclude that our earthly work is futile unless there is some good,ordering hand behind it. It is not dank pessimism to say that our various advances in material progress don’t actually make us better people. It is not bleak hopelessness that causes him to write that our attempts at materialistic satisfaction are doomed to failure.
What he is saying is that we were made for more than the material. We can acquire much wealth,gain much pleasure,achieve some material results,but without the loving hand of God in our life we fall short of what we were made to be. We may challenge this author’s exaggeration (a feature of biblical literature including some sayings of Jesus). Of course lots of worthwhile things happen on earth. But he exaggerates in order to make a real point. Only if the living God invades our lives will our lives become as they ought to be. St Augustine’s famous saying reflects this reality: “You have made us Lord for yourself,and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.”