“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever.
I communicated with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge.” And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind.
For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
~Ecc. 1:2-4; 16-18
In the first four chapters of Ecclesiastes alone, grasping for the wind is written 8 times. The Preacher mentioned is the son of David, king of Jerusalem. He has a pretty grim outlook on life while he writes these chapters, and repeats over and over that “all is vanity and grasping for the wind,” 2:17. Though he is immensely discouraged, some of his thoughts hold value:
- Nothing is remembered forever, and things that happen in the future will be forgotten by those who come after.
- Even non-material things like wisdom and knowledge provide more grief and sorrow.
- Working as hard as you can, having as many things as you can, acquiring all that will make you happy, becoming great and very wise, what does it profit in the end?
- The man who is a fool dies in the same way as a man who is wise. They came from dust and will return to dust, and those fearing God will ascend to him.
- What you accomplish, someone else will take over when you die, and you have no control over what will happen to your accomplishments years and years from now.
- Even a king, in all his glory, will not be reveled in years to come.
The Preacher’s mindset is painstakingly clear: what’s the point of it all?
I can become wise and knowledgeable, but that only brings me more grief and sorrow; and eventually one day, someone will come along and become wiser and more knowledgeable than I. I can build up many treasures on earth and enjoy them for the time, but then I die. No matter what I do, what I accomplish, what I learn, how far I travel, who I met, what I build, etc., it will all come to an end. An end that will eventually be forgotten. My name will one day no longer be remembered. I will eventually be surpassed by others. My time on this earth is short and what can I possibly accomplish in that time that’s got any real, lasting value? We all die, no matter what life we lived.
This is the king’s utterly hopeless thinking. And partly, he speaks truth. Each of us live just a fraction of time on earth. A fraction. What can you do with your fraction to make it significant? Through his hopelessness, the king also provides us some answers.
- “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor- it is the gift of God.” ~3:11-13
- “So I perceived that nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?” ~3:22
- “Two are better than one, because they have good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” ~4:9-12
The key phrase in these verses is HE. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has put eternity in their hearts. He gives us the gift of enjoyment, of rejoicing, of being part of a 3-strand cord which is lasting. We truly are just humans; there isn’t much we can do of lasting value, without God. Everything is vanity and grasping the wind, if you don’t have God. He is the one who creates lasting change, who makes eternal footprints, who has control over what happens to what we leave behind, who judges rightly. And who gives us the freedom to enjoy, to laugh, to rejoice in our lives now, because even though alone we may be wind-chasers, His power in us gives our life meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.
So why do we do it? Why do we wake up each morning and go to work? Why do we rejoice every time our paycheck comes? Why do we teach our children what’s right from wrong? Why do we start projects to change the world? Why do we go out of our way to love people? Why do we share the Gospel with others? Why do we fight for world justice? Why do we run races for people we’ve never met? Why do we travel across the world to live in a place devoid of Jesus’ name? If everything is vanity and grasping for the wind, why do we do it?
We do it because even though we cannot take the accomplishments of our labor or the money we’ve made when we die, He makes everything beautiful in its time.
Because even though our children grow up to become their own person, even though projects may fall apart after we’re gone, even though people may hate us back, even though the world continues to fall apart, He makes everything beautiful in its time.
Because even though we may not change anyone’s heart, even though people may rebuke the Gospel and turn away from hearing Jesus’ name, He makes everything beautiful in its time. He puts eternity in their hearts. We know that nothing is good except that we rejoice, we do good in our lives, and we should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all our labor- it is a gift from God.
So do not be discouraged. Do not feel hopeless. Do not feel like you’re not making a difference. Do not feel like all you do is worthless and grasping for the wind. Because it’s God. It’s always about God. He makes beauty rise from ashes, man rise from dust, and purpose rise when you get out of bed every morning. My friends- rejoice, do good, eat, drink, enjoy your labor, love your neighbors, love God.
He will make everything beautiful in His time.