Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, 18-23
July 16, 2017
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“All is Vanity… Under the Sun”
Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does anybody care about me? Studies have shown these are the four questions which everyone – almost involuntarily – ask themselves!
Inspired by the Almighty, Solomon addresses these questions in the text before us this morning! It is not obvious, however, because he does it in a skillful, indirect manner.
He very humbly employs a pseudonym (a “pen name” if you will) – Qoheleth (which means “Preacher”) so as not to draw attention to himself.
The Book of Ecclesiastes was probably his final collection of writings – with many clues pointing to the fact that he was by then a very old man. And a very repentant old man! In the twelfth and final chapter he refers very cleverly, for example, to the keepers of the house (his arms) trembling… or to the grinders ceasing because they are few (his teeth)… or the almond tree flourishing (his white hair).
“Why would he be so repentant in his old age?” we ask. For those who do not know the story of Solomon, his “start” was utterly fabulous! God appeared to him twice and granted him wisdom – an “understanding heart.” But then he fell into folly through the multiplication of wives (700 of them) – marriages of political alliance! And these wives brought their foreign gods into the land of Israel with them. And by them, we are told, Solomon’s heart was turned from the LORD. God was so upset with him, He tore the kingdom out of his hands and through the Prophet Ahijah gave ten of the tribes to his servant Jeroboam.
The Book of Ecclesiastes might easily be termed The Confessions of King Solomon. For he refers to his tenure as king and offers many worthy lessons which he learned the “hard way” through his moral failures. He was wise in his youth. Then he was foolish in his prime. But at the end of his life he returned to God and became wise once more! Perhaps wiser even than in his youth!
In order to understand the text before us this morning, we must recognize the stylistic framework in which he speaks.
Twenty-nine times he refers to life “under the sun” – which we soon figure out is opposed to life under “God’s throne.”
He is saying in essence, “Do not do as I did… when I lost my way and embraced the ‘life under the sun’ philosophy!”
The “life under the sun” worldview has been present in every era! Fallen man dreams of life “only” under the sun, without any reference to life under the throne of God whatsoever! With God (they would immediately correct me and say “the god-concept”) out of the picture, Mankind has no more “hang-ups” (no more complexes… no more guilt… no more neuroses) and may do exactly as he chooses! A fool’s paradise! Man under the sun, in essence, has become God – as the serpent promised our first parents!
Solomon’s telling description of life under the sun reminds me of the old quip about unheeding modernists climbing the ladder of life only to discover that it is leaning against the wrong wall!
So who am I? we ask those who live only under the sun. You are a special co-location of atoms they reply – no more… no less!
Why am I here? You are here by chance! No more no less!
Where am I going? You will die and return to nothingness, they explain.
Does anyone care about me? There are no guarantees in life about anything (in a world of chance) they reply…
This is the humanistic (life under the sun) worldview — a pretty depressing outlook for those who discover it!
But note Solomon’s important conclusion born of his repentance. Such an “under the sun” worldview is “vanity” (emptiness) he says! It is a ”striving after the wind” for something that is not true nor even possible! It is “vexation of spirit” he says – telling yourself that there is no meaning and no purpose in life except through unbridled egoism. Thirty years ago Ricky Nelson’s hit single “Garden Party” had his conclusion expressed in the recurring chorus: You’ve gotta please yourself!
And Solomon notes his pursuit of himself – his pleasure as king – nothing was kept from his hand that he desired as king of Israel! But guess what? His pursuit disappointed him. It ended up being a “lost cause.”
He then lists his pursuit of meaning through possessions! Houses, gardens, parks, trees, pools of water, slaves, flocks, herds, singers, concubines…
And once again, the pursuit disappointed him!
The concluding chapter of this great work reveals his “discovery” which he willingly passes on to those who will listen and are ready to hear! Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Follow the path – the philosophy – of life under His throne! Do not do as I did, for I forgot God, he says. Fear Him and keep His commandments!
Meaning in life comes not from being wrapped up in ourselves. Quite the contrary! A root-bound tree cannot grow! Meaning in life comes from stretching our perspective to include the Almighty – reaching out to our Creator and our Heavenly Father (Who welcomes us)!
So who am I? we ask the Ancient of Days. You were created in My Image! No more… no less
Why am I here? To find your highest calling in loving Me… and other people!
Where am I going? Heaven or hell. Eternal bliss… or eternal torment. And you will be held accountable for the choice you choose!
Does anyone care about me? Yes. Many care about you because I care about you!
God is at the center of everything! He is at the center of all the correct answers to the questions of life! Genesis 1:1 tells us – In the beginning God… God was before us and He is the foundation of all human life!
How does David’s 23rd Psalm begin? The LORD is my shepherd! God may be trusted –fully. He is greater than we are and He kindly takes care of us…
How does Jesus teach us to begin our prayers? Our Father which art in heaven… God is our Father and He has a good plan and a joyful purpose for us. The Prophet Isaiah tells us that it is a plan for good and not for evil!
God invites us to an intimate relationship with Him. O taste and see that the LORD is good, wrote the psalmist, of old.
So, you see, life begins with God. Life ends with our appearance before Him. And in between, life should be lived for Him! St. James counsels, Draw near to God and he will raw near to you.
It was dear St. Augustine who said there is an immense hole in our lives which cannot be filled except through the presence of God living in us! “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” he wrote, “and our hearts are rest-less till they find their rest in Thee.”
I once read the account of a Christian dissident who was cast into jail for preaching the Bible. He sat there dejectedly until other “captives” approached him, sensing his possession of truth. They had had everything stripped from them except their lives. “What is the purpose of life?” they asked him.
And then in an instant he understood why God had sent him there! To preach to them! He paused, stroked his chin, and looking into their wide open and eager eyes replied, “The purpose of life is to know God through Jesus Christ.”
And so it is! The purpose of life is to know God through Jesus Christ.
But here is the question worthy of our self-examination and confession this morning… How much of the “life under the sun” worldview has moved into our own lives and taken residence there?
“The purpose of life is to know God through Jesus Christ.” Everything else is vanity and a grasping after the wind. All else is vexation of spirit and folly! We do well to carefully consider Solomon’s words to us this beautiful Trinity Season morning!
Who are we? And why are we here? Where are we going? Does anybody care about us?
Remember now thy Creator! Respect Him and obey His Word. Reverence Him and walk with Him through the days He gives you. Find your fulfillment in Him!
This is the Word of the LORD, and it may be trusted fully world without end.