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Futility: meditating on Ecclesiastes 1

2 Meaningless! Meaningless!’
    says the Teacher.
‘Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.’

What do people gain from all their labours
    at which they toil under the sun?

9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    ‘Look! This is something new’?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief.

Everything goes in cycles. Our cherished novelties are just a repetition of past experiences in a different context with different people. What seems so important now will soon be forgotten. Today’s influencers and celebrities will soon disappear. Their lives are futile: the good will dissipate and their evil will be absorbed in the recurring cycle of future life.

Understanding this does not really help us; the more we know, the more we are aware of failure and futility, bringing more sorrow. We cannot change the way the world works.

So how can we break the cycle of futility? We cannot! Ultimately this is the result of sin, passed on from generation to generation, separating us from the real source of life, joy and purpose. The fall changed our God-given purpose of caring for the world and bearing children into an endless cycle of hardship and pain. There is no ultimate source of life outside God, and our sin separates us from God. We cannot save ourselves.

But the cycle of futility was broken by a man sent by God! He lived his life to the full, enjoying the true source of vitality, purpose and satisfaction. He gave his life on the cross to break the cycle of sin and death, so we can live, however imperfectly, as we were meant to. Raised from the dead, he has destroyed death, giving us an eternal future, a hope that does not end and cannot be destroyed. Even in a decaying body, against the struggles of the flesh, we can live with peace, joy and love, doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Faced with often-changing manifestations of sin, we can be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labour is not in vain.

Even though the continual cycles of procreation and provision are still filled with fall-inflicted pain and seeming futility, we can live knowing the one who loved us, still loves us and will love us forever. Our deep yearning for life and meaning, for love and safety, will be fulfilled in him. Even in the presence of our enemies, we taste something of that eternal delight, as we feast at the table he has prepared for us.

Purpose without God is a futile delusion. But with God, futility is the delusion!

1 thought on “Futility: meditating on Ecclesiastes 1”

  1. I think chasing things for its own sake can be seen as foolish and as the passage says it can seem meaningless. I love doing courses and studies and at times I feel what is it all for? But in Christ nothing is meaningless but he redeems it.
    As you say, ‘Our deep yearning for life and meaning, for love and safety, will be fulfilled in him’
    He makes it worthwhile.

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