Meaningless life without God

The Standard April 29, 2023

At the University of North Carolina, our second son held humanities courses in the lowest regard. The worst thing for him was writing a paper which was supposed to evaluate or give a novel twist on a piece that some famous author had written tens or hundreds of years before. He questioned the usefulness of such assignments. “What possibly could I add to this discussion that thousands of students have not written already? What interpretation could I offer that has not been presented ad nauseam?” “Shouldn’t the author’s words speak for themselves?” “I have nothing new to add.” (After three years of what was supposed to be higher education, Samuel declared that he had not learned anything useful and left Chapel Hill. He does plan to finish his degree now that he has had a lot of good work experience. To be fair, he would have disliked humanities courses at any school.)

The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes, often assumed to be Solomon but possibly a later descendant of King David, asserts that “What has been, will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) He also repeats that so much of our existence is utterly meaningless or is simply vanity. Searching for the ultimate meaning of life, the “Teacher” seems almost tortured at times, reflecting on all that life has to offer yet fails to fulfill. He looks for lasting value in wisdom, knowledge, work, pleasure and time. His conclusions are bleak, when left outside of the framework of God’s purposes.  Going into modes of deep personal analysis without godly hope can be quite unsettling.

Most of us like to think we have something unique and extraordinary to offer the world. It can be a big ego boost to imagine that we think “outside of the box,” maybe outside of every box that ever has existed, and might be able to create something especially significant or even revolutionary. Each of us wants our accomplishments to matter or to have someone remember us when we are gone. Surely it is right to want our lives to matter for the Kingdom of God.

Justin S. Holcomb, an Episcopal priest and seminary professor, writes, “Ecclesiastes describes the meaningless of living without God. We see that God created the world and called it ‘good.’ But despite this original goodness, humanity fell into sin, and all creation was subjected to the curse of God. This brought into the world meaninglessness, violence, and frustration. Graciously, God did not leave his creation to an endless round of meaningless. God’s response to sin is to redeem, renew, restore and recreate. The Bible traces this history of salvation from beginning to end. While this process starts immediately after the fall, God’s rescue mission culminates in Jesus Christ, who has rescued us from the meaninglessness of the curse that plagues us. Christ rescues us from the vanity of the world by subjecting himself to the same vanity of the world. He who is God chose to subject himself to the conditions of the world under covenant curse in order to rescue the world from the effects of that curse.”

The Teacher sums up all of his questions and reflections this way. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all humankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close