Life is, as Shakespeare said, “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I expect he got that from reading the book of Ecclesiastes. It sounds a lot like what Solomon had to say about life being “vanity of vanities.” Although we live on the earth, it could not care less about us. It’s all meaningless. Like the old man river, it just keeps on going while we struggle and strain with life’s meaninglessness. We suffer, and the rivers, the winds, and the oceans pay no attention to us. It just keeps on and on and on. None of the things on earth pay any attention to us and our pilgrimage, along with its trials and hardships that all come to but one end: Death. Solomon finds many different ways of saying this, and in Ecclesiastes 1:8, he adds the ideas of our senses of seeing and hearing. He writes, “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” We are insignificant creatures who live their short lives amidst an uncaring world of repetitive cycles. We see it, and we hear it all, but there is no hope for us. Life is just a meaningless prelude to death.

 Man has so many different insatiable appetites. I must have more. This is true of everything in life. That’s what makes it so weary. We get what we want, and it doesn’t satisfy us for very long. One very rich man was asked how much money it would take to make him happy. He simply answered, “More.” Life, under the sun, is moving from one experience to another. Solomon is right, “all things” are empty and meaningless. The eye will never have reached the point where it has seen enough. The ear will never say it doesn’t need or want to hear anything else. The rich man is right. It will always take “more” in our day-to-day lives. But unlike the rich man, Solomon teaches us that we are to evaluate this truth and have it impact us in our daily lives.

The weariness and vanity of life are that it just keeps going like the rivers. This applies to seeing and hearing as well. The Handbook for Bible Translators says, “The eye is not satisfied means that there is no way that we can actually ‘fill up’ our eyes. It does not mean that what the eye sees will never give it pleasure and satisfaction. It means, rather, that the eye can always see things as long as we keep it open to look at them. In the same way, the ear can always hear things. It does not get ‘filled up’ so that it cannot hear anything more. The eye and ear are not like containers that can only hold a limited amount. In this sense, they are just like the sea—always able to take in more.”[1] Jesus not only fulfills the law on behalf of us sinners, but he also fulfills the book of Ecclesiastes’ insistence on the repetitive weariness of life. He told the woman at the well in John 4:13-14, “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” The Greek word for “eternal” carries with it the idea of “quality” as well as “quantity.” Later in John’s Gospel (John 10:10), Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” In a world in which nothing really matters, we will agree with the speaker in Ecclesiastes. There is no meaning or purpose to our lives, only the drudgery of a hopeless daily existence. There are good times, but there are also bad times. In the end, the bad times win out with our death. No wonder we live in a world with such stress. Sailor said, “Never before in the history of civilization have so many voices been raised to declare that all purpose and meaning has departed from the world. Thus, Angst – dread, fear, anxiety – finds many expressions.”[2] Unlike the rest of creation, God does care about us and has eternal plans for those who believe. God wants to give us peace, not angst. Paul tells us, “be anxious for nothing.” Instead we should trust God, who will give us a “peace that passes all understanding.”

[1] Ogden, Graham S., and Lynell Zogbo. 1998. A Handbook on Ecclesiastes. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Sailer, William, J. Creighton Christman, David C. Greulich, Harold P. Scanlin, Stephen J. Lennox, and Phillip Guistwite. 2012. Religious and Theological Abstracts. Myerstown, PA: Religious and Theological Abstracts.