ABC Extra – Meaning in Meaninglessness – Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

March 1, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Depression 1“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD” (Psalm 130:1).  We all know what it feels like to be in “the depths.”  A tragedy strikes, depression hits, or despair wreaks havoc on our hearts and our emotional states can quickly take a turn for the worse.  Just this past week, I have heard stories of great trouble, tragedy, and trial from many of our own congregation members.  Tears come to my eyes as I think of the depths they are having to endure.  As they are in “the depths,” I cry to the Lord in prayer for them.

In worship this past weekend, we continued our series “Fit for Life” by talking about our emotional health.  In my studies for this weekend’s theme, I found that for all the health problems we have physically as a nation – cancer and diabetes and swine flu and coughs and colds – our emotional health problems are even direr.  Consider these statistics:

  • According to PBS, 15 million adults, a full 8% of the US population, suffers from what is described as “major depression,” that is, depression that has become unmanageable.  And this number does not even include people 18 and younger.  There are millions more high school students who suffer from major depression.
  • Every sixteen minutes, someone commits suicide in our country.  Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death overall and the second leading cause of death among college students.  Every year, more people die from suicide than homicide.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, anti-depressants are the most prescribed drugs in America.  Of the 2.4 billion prescriptions written in 2005, 118 million of those were for anti-depressants.  Interestingly, the number of anti-depressants prescribed between 1999 and 2000 tripled.

These statistics sadly attest to how we, as a nation, are not emotionally healthy.  Emotional sickness, however, is not unique to our day and age.  Depression struck the ancients even as it strikes us.

Consider Solomon in Ecclesiastes.  He opens his book:  “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  The Hebrew word for “meaningless” is hebel, meaning, “emptiness,” or “vanity.”  Notably, the Hebrew construction reads literally, “Hebel of Hebels,” or “Vanity of Vanities.”  This is to express the superlative force of the meaninglessness of which Solomon speaks.  In other words, Solomon is not just addressing that which is meaningless, he is addressing that which is most meaningless.  And what is most meaningless?  Solomon answers, “Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  Everything?  Yes, everything! Money, fame, power, prestige, accomplishment, wisdom, connectedness – it’s all meaningless!  Talk about a depressed outlook on life!

Blessedly, Solomon further clarifies his assertion that everything is ultimately meaningless by noting the location at which everything is meaningless: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (verse 9).  This phrase, “under the sun,” is key to Ecclesiastes and appears some twenty nine times.  It serves as a circumlocution to speak of that which is on this earth.  In other words, as long as we are on this earth and are living by the values of this earth, our lives will be ultimately devoid of meaning.  We will find ourselves trapped by “the depths” of sinfulness.  Thus, if we are to receive true, lasting meaning for our lives, we must receive it from somewhere – indeed, from someone – not under the sun.  And so Solomon finally points us to God as our source for true meaning:

What does the worker gain from his toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13)

Even though this world is full of trouble, toil, and tribulation “under the sun,” we trust in a God who delivers his gifts from above the sun – he delivers his gifts from heaven, even as James says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).  God sends his gifts from above the heavenly lights into our world.  Indeed, he even sent the good and perfect gift of his Son, the ultimate heavenly Light, to redeem our world from its misery and meaninglessness.  It is in Christ that we find transcendent meaning for our lives.

How is your emotional health?  Are you happy or sad?  Fulfilled or empty?  Elated or in despair?  Whether times are good or bad, remember that life is not hopeless “under the sun.”  For God has sent his Son from above the sun to give us meaning and purpose as we live under the sun.  And so never despair concerning your life’s meaning.  For God has given your life – and every life – meaning.  And that meaning’s name is Jesus.

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