Why Life is Hard
The book of Ecclesiastes was picked for me to teach to a group of young adults a few years ago. Though I had read it many times I never studied it and approached it with a bit of trepidation. But as I worked through the book I began to see how this little, complex book was utterly correct when it said, ‘Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun? (Eccl. 1:2b-3) Bam! Right from the get go Solomon (if you don’t think Solomon wrote this understand that I don’t care so don’t bother commenting) nails the reality of life right on the head. We live ‘under the sun’ and therefore ultimately all things are simply vain.
That little word, ‘vanity’ is a fascinating term. It is the Hebrew word hevel and has a complex sense of meanings. It is used to refer to something that is insubstantial and transitory (Psalm 144:4). Or, deceitful and ineffectual (Jeremiah 16:19). In that passage it is referencing the emptiness of false gods and how the nation of Israel were panting after them thinking that they would bring them happiness and meaning, but ultimately they were just ‘hevel.’ Sound like something we see everyday around us?
Another way it is used is that which is absurd or perplexing. In Eccl 8:14 it is written, “There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.” Here the idea of transitory or deceitful doesn’t fit. Here the point of the term is that things don’t work the way they ought to.
All of this to say that whatever exists under the sun ultimately ends up in vanity. And the reason for this is that sin and death entered the world and with them vanity. Nothing remains, nothing ultimately satisfies, and you can obey all the ‘rules’ and still lose. Even the best life ends and you are forgotten in short order.
One of the ways you can discern the presence of a false teacher is how much he or she presses us to find our best life now. Anyone who wants you to find hope in what God calls ‘hevel’ is to be ignored and silenced. This age is passing and shall be rolled up like a scroll.
The gospel tells us that God sent His Son into this world of hevel to redeem a people for His name’s sake. The gospel tells us that the purpose of this redemption was not merely to bring people into heaven, but to let them participate in enjoying the new heavens and earth forever. A Christian world view looks at all the hevel of life and calls people to not look under the sun to the One who alone stands beyond the sun. There alone is hope and salvation.