Monday, August 16, 2010

A Quest for Meaning



Part 2 of a series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes


LIFE UNDER THE SUN

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind (1:14).

The Hebrew word for "vanity" is hebel. It literally means "vapor," "breath," or "wind." In Ecclesiastes, hebel is used in a figurative sense.

Life "under the sun" (without God) is:
  • Futile. Life is like a treadmill.
  • Frustrating. Life is a chasing after the wind.
  • Fleeting. Life is a vapor.
What is crooked cannot be made straight (1:15).

We can’t fix life. We can’t change it.


SOLOMON’S QUEST FOR MEANING

How would you fill in the blank? "I’ll be happy when _________."

Solomon was like Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, and Hugh Hefner all rolled into one. If anyone could find fulfillment from life under the sun, it would be Solomon.

King Solomon searched for meaning in the things we often put in that blank:
  1. Power. I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem (1:12).
  2. Pleasure. I said in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself." But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, "It is mad," and of pleasure, "What use is it?" (2:1-2).
  3. Alcohol. I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life (2:3).
  4. Work.I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees (2:4-6).
  5. Comfort. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house (2:7a).
  6. Wealth. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces (2:7b-8a).
  7. Music. I got singers, both men and women (2:8b).
  8. Sex. And many concubines, the delight of the children of man (2:8c). Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3).
  9. Fame. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem (2:9).
What was Solomon’s conclusion at the end of his quest for meaning?

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (2:11).

Two quotes from The Simpsons (not an endorsement of the show) demonstrate the vanity of life under the sun: (1) “The road to the Super Bowl is long ... and pointless—I mean, when you really think about it.” (2) Homer Simpson says to Mr. Burns: “You’re the richest man I know.” Mr. Burns replies, “Yes, but I’d trade it all for more.”

Searching for meaning from life under the sun is like a wild goose chase with no goose. "I’ll be happy when..."


MADE TO WORSHIP

"Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. ... They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:21, 25).

What are you worshiping?
  • We are all worshipers.
  • If you are devoted to things under the sun, you will always search for "something more."
  • If you are devoted to God, you will be satisfied.
With God, there is “something more.” There is hope—not under the sun, but through the Son.

Jesus said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21).

We can enjoy the "treasures" of the world, but we must not be devoted to them. The first commandment is "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).


"ROSEBUD"

One of my favorite movies is Citizen Kane, released in 1941, directed by and starring Orson Welles. Citizen Kane is often considered the greatest film of all time.

The film begins at the end. Charles Foster Kane, is dying. Once extremely powerful and popular, now he is all alone. Holding a snow globe, he utters his final word: “Rosebud.”

What did “Rosebud” mean? In the film, a reporter becomes intrigued by the mystery of “Rosebud” and attempts to discover its meaning.

In a series of flashbacks, it is revealed that Kane’s childhood was spent in poverty. But his life changed when the world’s third largest gold mine was discovered on a property owned by his mother. Kane is then sent away from his parents to be educated. To make a long story short, he becomes an incredibly wealthy man, but never finds true happiness.

At the end of the film, the reporter gives up trying to solve the meaning of “Rosebud” and concludes that it will forever remain a mystery. However, the film’s audience is shown the meaning of “Rosebud.” In the final scene, several workers are throwing into a furnace some of Kane’s possessions that are considered “junk.” One of the pieces of junk is Kane’s childhood sled—the same sled he was playing with on the day when he was taken from his home. The camera zooms in toward the sled and reveals that its name is “Rosebud.”

Charles Foster Kane had gained everything under the sun. But the only time he was ever truly happy was as a child, sliding down the snowy hills on Rosebud.

"Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun" (2:11).

What are you worshiping? What are you devoted to? If you are devoted to things under the sun, you will always search for something more. If you are devoted to God, you will be satisfied.