Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.
Sounds like the beginning of a Greek comedy/tragedy theatrical production, doesn’t it?
What is vanity anyway?
In today’s culture, we use it to describe someone who is boastful, conceited and full of themselves. Remember Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain tune of the 70s? You’re humming it to yourself now, aren’t you? But, vanity has other meanings that comes from a much, much older reference.
In the Old Testament, the translated word for vanity comes from the Hebrew word awen, which has a layers upon layers of meanings, among them boastfulness, nothingness, emptiness, pointlessness and worthlessness.
So where did the above phrase come from and what does it really mean?
Remember that wise old man from a few weeks ago? That’s right, Solomon! Well, along with Proverbs and Song of Solomon, he’s also credited with penning a little-read book called Ecclesiastes. To be honest, the book is a bit of a downer, focusing on the fact that life on this earth has no permanence. And that no matter how much we have, it seems like it’s never enough to satisfy us. When we’re sucked into collecting the material acquisitions of this world, we always seen to need a new “fix” to make us happy.
Solomon is quick to remind us that no matter how hard we try and manufacture a meaningful life, in the end, it’s all a futile effort. Time passes and we all leave this world with exactly the same amount stuff we entered it with…nothing. Solomon goes on to further lament the vanity of wisdom, pleasure, labor, desire, laughter, youth, wealth and popularity.
Ecclesiastes also brings us some other greatest hits, such as:
There is nothing new under the sun. ~Ecclesiastes 1:9
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. ~Ecclesiastes 3:1
The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. ~Ecclesiastes 9:11
So what is a book like this doing in the bible? Isn’t the bible suppose to be a book of promise and the story of God’s love? People look to the bible for hope and guidance, not to reinforce the emptiness of this life. What gives? Is life really worth living if there’s no point to it?
Ah ha! It is…but we need to look at three little words at the very beginning…under the sun.
When reading this book, we should not confuse Solomon’s honesty with jaded cynicism and despair about life in this world, under the sun. Wisdom, pleasure, labor, desire, laughter, youth and wealth are all good things. But a life centered around those things without God is an empty shell when it’s all said and done. He is spot on correct that nothing we accomplish or accumulate in this world is worth anything without God.
His point is to help us to focus on what’s truly important in life; to trust God and enjoy the blessings (good and bad) he’s given us; to stop complaining about the things we don’t have. Our lives are a series of challenges; each designed for a purpose in its own time. Putting our trust in him is the only way we can find everlasting, worthwhile meaning to our lives. Without God, there isn’t anything to look forward to when he’s finished with us here. We’ll just fade away, like sandcastles on the beach when the tide rolls in and out.
Life is short and the road is incredibly hard. Make the most of every experience while you can, keeping your eye on the ultimate prize.
Our lives are far from meaningless. Do not live in vain.
Linking up with ABC Wednesday