October 30 thru November 26
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
The release of this issue comes just ten days before the nation concludes the contentious drama of the 2016 elections. Perhaps the only opinion not controversial is that this has been the most bizarre and disturbing election process of our time. Many are so appalled, they are refusing to participate. Our trust for authorities and leaders is sinking to new lows. It all seems… meaningless.
These conclusions turned my attention to the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. At first glance, the book has a dark and pessimistic commentary on life. Whether it is the politics of the second millennium after Christ or the politics of the first millennium before, little has changed. The earth spins and with it generations come and go; but nothing really changes.
I chose reading this book in the midst of our national pessimism, because couched in its seemingly dark commentary is a compelling case to turn our world upside down with nothing else but grace. It would not have us sink to new lows of despair. It does, however, honestly confront the reality of how low we have sunk. It leads us not to bow to the pressures of society, but to bow before our sovereign and loving God.
The most infamous word in Ecclesiastes is “meaningless.” In Hebrew the word is, “havel.” It’s a word that literally means, “smoke” or “vapor.” The translation of “meaningless” does give us one dimension of the commentary, but there’s so much more. It’s not the conclusion of the teacher that our lives are meaningless. Far from it! His thesis is that we can’t put God in a box. Like smoke, He can’t be held in your hand or captured by the wisdom of your thoughts. And since God is our creator, our lives are so much more than this world imagines or our efforts can hold on to. Far from being trapped in a box, God has placed eternity into our hearts. And yet, this too is like smoke because we can’t wrap our minds around the totality of God’s loving purpose for us.
In study of geometry, there’s something called an “indirect proof.” Simply put, the approach is to start with a false statement and logically apply it, step by step, to a description of the real world. In the process, your world blows up. And when the dust and smoke disperses, surprise! There’s a compelling case for a completely different conclusion. That’s one way to read Ecclesiastes. (And a way to “read” our world along with the conclusions we make about it!) The teacher shows us all his attempts to make his life meaningful. They all blow up on him and when the dust settles… there’s God.
In many ways, Ecclesiastes talks with contemporary style to purposeful living under the grace of God. Ecclesiastes itself would be meaningless philosophy, unless it leads us to the Savior who rescues us from the smoke and mirrors of life. I believe that’s the teacher’s intent: follow the smoke trail to God’s Messiah. For this reason, I’ve chosen to conclude each day’s reading with a short verse that connects us to Jesus.
So whether it's the elections or a dozen other things blowing smoke at you right now, follow the smoke trail with God’s Word, rather than your own pessimism. “Grow Deeper” beyond human arguments and petty debates. Follow the smoke. It won’t be easy to see through it. You can't completely understand it all. And that will challenge your faith. It will blow up some of your false supports. It will test your confidence and the true place of your hope. Along that trail of smoke, I pray you’ll see Jesus… and that life is beautiful!
"God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11)