• Jamie McClanahan

It’s a Meaning Meaningful Life (Part 1)

Ecclesiastes: A Meaningful Book about Meaninglessness

In his autobiographical book, A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean, writes his story of he and his brother growing up as sons of a Methodist clergymen in Prohibition Era Missoula, Montana. The men of the family were all fly-fisherman. The story is of tragedy and happiness between the brothers and their parents. At the end of the book, which was made into a movie in 1992, the elderly Norman Maclean reflects upon his parents' deaths, wife, and the tragic murder of his brother.

Of course, now I'm too old to be much of a fisherman, and now I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. But when I'm alone in the half light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories, and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River, and the four-count rhythm, and a hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.— Norman Maclean, (1976). [1]

Water was the memory trigger that haunted Maclean. Almost 3000 years before this book and movie were composed, the wisest of Kings, Solomon, was haunted by the question, "What is the meaning of life?" The question and its seemingly endless answers beleaguered his thoughts and became a momentary obsession. His tensions, and eventual resolution are recorded in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes. The beginning and end of the book reveal his problem and later solution. The thesis of the book is revealed in verse Ecclesiastes 1:2. The Preacher, the Son of David, King in Jerusalem, says, "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity." The Preacher elaborates that life "under the sun", and all its activities, are as a meaningless vapor. The first few verses, and even the first chapter, may not provoke you to read more of the book. Ecclesiastes 1:3-12:12 reveal a survey of the landscape of meaning and meaninglessness. Solomon, the author and son of King David provides a list of activities under the sun, which, apart from applying the conclusion of 12:13-14, will come to nothing. So, we fast-forward to the end of the book. In his conclusion, Solomon writes, "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."

These two sections of verses (1:1-2; 12:13-14), and the content between, remind believers in Jesus that we must not waste our time trying to find ultimate and lasting satisfaction in earthly pursuits unrelated to the purpose of "fearing God and keeping his commandments." Nor should we engage in behaviors as if we will never be held accountable or rewarded because of them. Every act done for the glory of God and the good of others is not forgotten or wasted.

The reality of death and life language in Ecclesiastes is not meant to depress or paralyze. Instead, it is the motivation for God's people to make the most of their time to glorify him by doing good to others for Christ's sake. The people of God are to walk circumspectly and soberly in this present age. Paul reminded the church in Ephesus to be keenly aware of their actions as it relates to time. In Ephesians 6:15-16, he writes, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."

There are 12 Chapters and 222 verses in Ecclesiastes (ESV). It is one book of 66 in the Canon of Holy Scripture that tells the redemption story in Jesus. Phillip Ryken explains the book's connection to the greater whole of the storyline of the Bible. In the ESV Literary Study Bible, he writes, "b. The book of Ecclesiastes has been called a Christ-shaped vacuum. Its contribution to the storyline of the Bible is to record the longing of the human soul to find satisfaction and to point us toward the satisfaction of that longing in a Christ-centered experience of life. Jesus is the meaning of life, and if he is not at the center of our daily experience, we will find only futility and frustration."

Mabey this is why Herman Melville called it "the truest of all books." Perhaps it is why American Novelist Thomas Wolfe called it "the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth."

Even Tolstoy acknowledged that, although life seemed meaningless, there may still be hope. In Confessions, he writes:

And it occurred to me that there might be something I did not yet know. After all, that is exactly how ignorance behaves. Ignorance always says what I am saying. When it does not know something it says that the thing it does not know is stupid. In any event it appears that there is a whole section of mankind that has lived and still lives, as if it knew the meaning of life, for without knowing this meaning it could not live. Yet I am saying that all life is meaningless and that I cannot live.[2]

As we begin a journey through Ecclesiastes in blog form, I hope you will consider that you can experience true and lasting meaning in life. However, too often, before we can admit there is meaning in life, we must experience a meaningless existence. Sometimes, the pain comes as we believe meaning comes through activities and endeavors that do not offer meaningful satisfaction. The disappointment and discouragement from of this realization is great.

Maybe this is the starting point for you. You have either discovered there is no meaning apart from faith in Jesus, or you have become frustrated because you sought to derive pleasure from a temporal source that has run dry. Wherever you are in life, leave the door open to the notion that God, through Jesus Christ, has an incredible purpose for your life that can reveal true meaning and dispel meaningless living. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…no one comes to the Father, except by me.”

[1] "A river runs through it". Youtube.com. Retrieved March 17, 2019. [2] Tolstoy, Leo. A Confession and Other Religious Writings (p. 48). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

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