Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
This is likely how your English Bible translates the opening words of the book of Ecclesiastes. But the author is communicating something a little more nuanced than what those words communicate.
Life doesn’t carry much purpose
The Hebrew word “hevel” used in this introduction (and many times throughout the book) doesn’t mean life has no meaning. Instead, it’s best translated as “vapor” or “smoke,” which is something that appears for a short period of time and then is gone in a moment’s time.
It not only fades quickly, but you also can’t grab onto it. It slips right through your fingers.
The core concept the book gets into is that your life is just a blip in time and then you die. Your life is a sliver in the march of time. Everything you do will be forgotten and you will also be forgotten at some point.
Given these truths, life doesn’t carry much purpose. Even if you’re a good person, bad things still happen to you and ultimately, you will not escape death. Depressed yet?🙂
Tragic things will happen to you
But what the book is designed to point out is how humans pursue meaning and purpose in all sorts of ways that don’t amount to much. We do it through work, status, pleasure or the litany of other things we give time, money, energy and attention to.
With close examination, we can see how much and how often we do things that are almost worthless in the grand scheme of things. It’s not that those things are necessarily bad, they just don’t last very long.
Plus, you can work hard, be a good person and live with wisdom and tragic things can still happen to you.
So what are we to do about it?
Moving to joy
Accept that this is how life is until the Lord makes everything right again while you stand in confident belief that He is going to do just that.
When that happens, we move from depression to joy because we have found purpose. Because of that joy, we can en-joy the simplest things in life together.
There is a freedom that emerges in a posture of total trust in God. I can let go and enjoy life because I’m not holding onto it tightly. After all, it’s “hevel,” and I can’t hold onto it anyway.
Now I have freedom to enjoy life in the midst all that happens because I know He will make everything right again.
The book offers a reality check. It’s trying to help us see where meaning and purpose are found. When it’s found in God and the story He is unfolding, you experience a high level of freedom to enjoy life, even the things that are fleeting.
A church community has access to God’s Spirit and Wisdom. Pursuing the Lord together generally leads to a better life. But churches are not immune to the tragedies of our current fallen world. Nothing is guaranteed.
When they hold life “too close to the chest,” so to speak, it can really sap the joy out of the community.
So we could say a sign of that sign would be that this group of people enjoys life together. They enjoy being together. They intentionally orchestrate being together a lot and create enjoyment in what they do.
They can do this because they’re not trying to hold on to their lives or what they think they should be. They have found meaning and purpose within God’s eternal purpose they are living out together. They have let go of expectations and control of what happens in this life.
While nothing guaranteed, healthy church life is a guaranteed good time in the midst of a world that is not always so.