I started reading Ecclesiastes today and am fascinated by the mystery and wisdom is holds. I enjoy poetry and riddles. The reoccurring theme is:
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (1:1)
Vanity literally means vapor. And we are not just talking about vapor, but the vapor of vapor! Vapor is fleeting and elusive. As I work through the book, I will be considering what the writer means by this. Verse 2 immediately presents at least one concept of vanity: “What does man gain by all the toil?” I just taught on 1 Cor 15, in which Paul explains the vanity of preaching and faith if Christ was not raised from the dead (v. 14). In Greek, this word translated vanity can mean without result, reason, or purpose. The suggestion that man gains nothing from his work is the vanity of no result.
The obvious answer to the Preacher’s question is “a living.” When one works he is able to provide food and shelter for his family. But the question forces the reader to go deeper than this. The Preacher is pushing us past the obvious cycles and assumptions of this world to consider the meaning and value of food and shelter, the meaning of existence at all. The writer has come to a point in life, as many of us do, when we are desperate for a deeper purpose. “Surely food and shelter is not what this is all about.” Food and shelter are no the end, but a means. They are simply necessary for survival according to God’s design. The purpose of our existence must be something more. At least that is what depths of my soul cry out for. “What is this all about anyway?” Amazingly, though, so much of our culture has become a half-dead mass of humanity that is satisfied to run the rat race for the prize of food and shelter. They have only modified it in that they hunt for greater and more glamorous food and shelter. I will live for more than this.