Fading daylight
Fading daylight

Ecclesiastes Study Part 4

This is week four on our series on the book of Ecclesiastes. And we’ve been considering Solomon’s words, particularly this idea of life under the sun. You know, what life is like if there is no God. It’s kind of like the view that John Lennon wrote about it in the lyrics to that song, Imagine. Remember he says, “Imagine there’s no Heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us, only sky. Imagine all the people living for today.” He says, just imagine what it would be like if there was no God and no Heaven and no religion.

Solomon says that life under the sun leads to a life that is empty and meaningless. And so, what do we do? We look for ways to divert the mind and we consider the issues of pleasure and our work, which most modern people center their lives on. But what we determine, and I think everybody, it’s not effective, it really doesn’t work, it doesn’t keep emptiness out of our lives. It doesn’t permanently satisfy.

I talked to a guy yesterday, and this guy travels all over the world and he admitted, we were talking about Ecclesiastes; we were talking about this lesson. And he said, you’re right. The problem with pleasure is, for instance, pleasure has a beginning, and it has an end, and once it’s over, it’s not, it doesn’t leave any lasting satisfaction. You can travel the greatest places in the world, and they don’t do much for you.

But as you keep reading Ecclesiastes, when Solomon brings God into the picture, everything changes. And I want to talk about this morning about the ultimate theme of this book, which is the issue of meaning, because he says everything under the sun is meaningless.

There’s a guy by the name of George Gilder. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him. He’s an unusual man, a very bright guy. He’s, he’s what they call a futurist. And a futurist is a man who is hired by large corporations because his main job is to seek to discern future trends out in the world and helps companies anticipate those trends. And he made this observation about men in general. And I think he’s right on. Listen to what he says. He says, “Men lust, but they know not what for. They fight and compete out in life, but they forget what the prize is. They spread seed but spurn the seasons of growth. They chase power and glory but miss the meaning of life.”

And what I’ve learned is that we all deeply yearn for meaningful life. We all have this desire that my life really matters, and that as I’ve gone through life, I’ve made some type of contribution to the world. Remember in week one what Dallas Willard said? He said, “Meaning is one of the greatest needs of human life. One of our deepest hungers. Perhaps it is in the final analysis, the most basic need in the realm of the human experience. Almost anything can be born if life as a whole is meaningful. As Albert Camus, the very famous Nobel prize winning Christian novelist says, ‘The foundational question about life is the question of meaning. Everything else is secondary.’ And until you answer this question, you cannot give answers to the other questions of life. And what Camus was saying was, this is life’s most pivotal question.”

In fact, as I was preparing this, I thought some, somewhat amusing words from the great French skeptic Voltaire. This is the way he described life. He said, “Human beings are tormented particles, living in a bed of mud, devoured by death, a mockery of fate.” I mean, you talk about an optimistic person. But then he steps back and asks this question. He says, “Why does this bother me so much? My cat doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, but this is very troubling to me.” In other words, he said, when I reflect upon my existence, it troubles me to think that I’m just a mass of chemicals that is here by accident. But if you think about it, guys, what he is saying is that my atheist view of life does not match up with the innate desires of my heart.

Tim Keller, I think, makes a really good observation here. He says, “If we’re just finite beings, as Voltaire says we are, when we die, we are just food for the worms. There is no intrinsic value. So, then why do we yearn, if that’s true, why do we yearn for meaning? Why do we have this desire and this sense of wanting permanence to our lives?” He says, I quote, “As you examine life, all of our innate desires have something that will satisfy them. There’s no such thing as an innate natural desire that does not have something that will fulfill it. For instance, when you’re hungry, there is such a thing as food. And that you desire love, and there is such a thing as friendship, romance, marriage, family.”

In fact, I don’t know if you’ve ever read this, but it’s true. If you take a little baby who comes out of the womb and you never really hold it and you never really love on it, you never put it in your (arms), that baby will die, because babies need love and there’s such a thing as love. That’s why you have mothers and why you have fathers.  C.S. Lewis made the same observation. He said, “Creatures are not born with innate desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.” So, if this is true, then as we yearn a desire, a life that is meaningful, there has to be something out there that will fulfill it. And yet, the problem is, man on his own, living that lie under the sun, can’t seem to find it. This is why Solomon says in his opening words of the book of Ecclesiastics. He says, “Meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless. Everything is meaningless.”

Well, I’ve got something I want to read to you that I found. I read this book probably 15 or 20 years ago. And I stumbled upon it when I was doing the preparation. And it comes from Alistair McGrath’s book on the search for; it’s about man’s search for meaning. And this is very powerful, but you’ve just got to listen real carefully to grasp it. So, I’m just going to read it. He says, “The English poet, Percy Shelley, saw the moth’s desire for the star as a powerful symbol of a heart’s desire for something which was both distant yet compelling, a means of sustaining hope for the future and distracting us from our present sphere of sorrow. It’s a very poignant image which can help us reflect on this theme of meaning.” Listen to what he says. He says, “The moth is meant to be attracted to light. For some reason that we really don’t fully understand, the moth has an inbuilt tendency to be drawn to a light source. Why is that? We can only guess, yet the simple fact remains that moths are drawn to the light. It’s as if they have an innate tendency to be attracted to a source of illumination. This is the problem for the moth. With the arrival of artificial light, the moth has found itself in something of a difficulty. For instance, the candle lit at night attracts moths, who end up being consumed in its flame. The floodlight buildings in the center of our cities attract moths to the powerful lights that illuminate them, and which vaporize the moths on contact. The inbuilt attraction of the moth for the wrong light source thus leads to its destruction.”

And then he asked this. He says, “Is there not a parallel here with our own situation? Suppose that the deep sense of yearning for something that really satisfies us is actually a longing for God. A longing that we are meant to experience and a longing that is meant to lead us to its true source and goal in God. Might not this longing accidentally become attached to lesser goals within this world. Might our quest for beauty become an end in itself yet break our hearts because it fails to deliver what we had anticipated. Might our quest for significance and meaning end up being completely frustrated and that everything that we hoped would bring meaning to our lives only disappoints us. The objects of our desire have a marked tendency to let us down but suppose that these objects are like the candle to the moth, something, which is only an image of our true desire. Might there be something which is what we really are meant to desire that will not destroy us, but bring us fulfillment and joy?”

Guys, this is the essence of the Christian message. This is the essence of Christian hope. But what he has just said also is very Biblical. Do you remember reading in the book of Jeremiah, a most significant verse? It’s what Jay Lloyd says is the reason almost everyone who comes and sits across him in his counseling sessions, he points to this verse, and it was just the same thing McGrath was just saying about the moth. In Jeremiah 2:13, it says, “For my people have committed two evils. Number one, they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water. And secondly, they have sought to make for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”

And what Jay will tell you when you try to make your own cistern and there are all kind of cisterns out there, we talked about them, the pleasures of life, our work, our finances; when we’re looking to those to do what only God Himself can do, he says, we’re making broken cisterns. All human cisterns leak.

Paul says the same thing in Romans 1:25. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator Himself.”

You see, this is what idolatry is. Taking something that God intended to be good, even to be enjoyed, and we take those things, and we elevate them to the point that they displace God and put Him down here. And that’s the reason human beings struggle so much. That’s the reason there’s so much emptiness. Why do we have it? If you think about it, if there is no God, and truly, if this life is all there is and when you die, that’s it. You go to an everlasting sleep, everlasting nothingness. And yet, why is it that we have this great desire for permanence?

I think that’s what Woody Allen, it just drives him insane is that that he doesn’t believe there’s anything, but he has this unbelievable desire to keep on living. And why do we have that desire? Because God put it there. We’re created in His image. We are eternal beings. I love that statement that we are eternal beings currently experiencing a temporary human experience.

Well, let’s go in this direction. What can we deduce from the book of Ecclesiastes? That life under the sun is meaningless, but then you do bring God into the picture. What is the meaning of life? Clearly it starts with connecting with Him and following His will, His plan for our lives. In the Investigative Study, in the first series, in the very first lesson, we talk about entering into a relationship with Him. And the reason is, this is why we exist. We exist to know God, to serve Him, to get our lives in sync with His plan, His will for our lives, because when you live, as we said, when you live in a godless world, there are no answers to the big questions of life.

What the good news guys is, in Christ, all the big questions are answered. One of the big questions that man is asking, who am I? I’m a child of God. My life has great value and worth. What does Ephesians 2:10 say, “We are His workmanship.” That word workmanship is the Greek word is poiema. It means we are God’s work of art. We have great value because he is the artist, and we are His work of art. Why am I here? That’s the number one question people want to know. What is the reason for my life? As we said, to know God. I Corinthians 8:6, “We exist for Him.” I Corinthians 1:9. “We have been called to live our lives in fellowship with Jesus Christ.” In Isaiah 43:21, he talks about “this people who I formed for Myself.” So, we are here for God. We exist for Him. We exist to live in a relationship, but we also need to know this. He wants to do something in and through each of our lives. Going back to Ephesians 2:10, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for certain good works, which He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

That’s powerful. So, who am I? Why am I here? And the other final question is, what is my ultimate destiny? Eternity. Eternal life. It struck me that Jesus spent so much of His time, if you read it carefully, as you read the Gospels, He would often talk about the kingdom of God. And then He would talk about how to enter the kingdom of God. That’s the big deal. Those who enter the kingdom of God. So, eternal life is my ultimate destiny. And I’m convinced of this, that life in eternity is going to be incredibly meaningful. As C.S. Lewis says, it’s like a story and each chapter of the story gets better, better, and better as time goes by.

All right. I want to close our time by considering a component of finding meaning in life. And that is making a difference in the lives of other people. I read a fascinating article about Victor Frankl. I don’t know if you remember Frankl. He was a psychiatrist and he, in 1942, he was a Jewish psychiatrist, and he was put into a Nazi concentration camp. He was very famous when they, when he went to, uh, when he was put into this concentration camp, in fact, it was used by the Germans ironically, to be a psychiatrist there. I’m not sure whether he worked with the, probably working with the soldiers, I guess. I don’t know. But the fact is he’s written what many people consider one of the most influential books that has ever been written called, Man’s Search for Meaning. And in this article, they talk about a group of psychologists who have done this extensive study. And in this study, this is what they concluded. That we, as a culture, it’s talking about our country, he says, “We, as a culture, seek happiness and not meaning and yet really what we want, more than anything and need more than anything, is meaning in our lives.”

And this is what they found. Listen, this is really insightful. What they found is that happiness is associated with being a taker. You just want to take from life, but that meaning and leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a giver. And as Christians, we’re not just talking about going out and doing good deeds, but really, we’re talking about seeking to truly impact the lives of others. And the reason is because in God’s eyes, people are of infinite value and everything else in the world is not.

When you read about the life of C.S. Lewis, one of the things that you note, and I’ve read a lot about his life, in fact, I even read a book about his spiritual life, and Lewis recognized that God had called him to impact the lives of others through his writing. And that was kind of his mission. And yet, what you read about his life is that before he became a Christian, not only had he lived his life just like Solomon, very pessimistic, very gloomy about life and could care less than about anybody, he had almost no friends.

When he came to Christ, when he became a Christian, let me just read this to you. “His whole view of humanity changed. Lewis’s new worldview as a Christian changed his valuation of people. Death no longer marked the end of life, but only the end of the first chapter in a book that went on without him. And every human being, he now believed, will live forever, outliving every organization, every state, every civilization on earth. There are no ordinary people, Lewis said. No one ever talks to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry snub, and exploit. Immortal horrors or everlasting splendor. Your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. People, in Lewis’ new view, transcend in time and significance everything else on earth. This forced him to set new priorities in his life. The first priority given to his relationship with God, his Creator, the second priority to his relationship with others.”

G.K. Chesterton said, “If you want your life to really count, if you want your life to have true meaning, it is imperative to invest your life in eternal pursuits and endeavors. This is the only way for your life’s fruit to live on after you’re gone.” If I had to summarize this, I would quote [unintelligible].

But I ask you to think about it. I ask you to think about it as it applies to you. He says everything God does is eternally significant. And then he says this. When we, you and I, when we are submissive to what God is seeking to accomplish in the lives of others, we find ourselves participating in the eternal. I think this is a key to finding real meaning, knowing that you are participating in eternal purposes of God.

And that may kind of boggle your mind. You know, what difference can my life really make? Well, I’m going to give you a great example, but before I do, do you have any comments or questions?

I got this email from Jerry Leachman, and it’s really, really good. And before I read it, I want to ask, I didn’t even ask you a question. Has everybody in here seen the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life? Has anybody not seen it? I won’t put you on the spot. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a terrific movie. It’s a classic, but Leachman says this. “The older I get; it becomes clearer and clearer to me that none of us do much of anything in and of ourselves. The movie It’s a Wonderful Life got it right. One life influences another life. Then that life influences another and so on. It’s such a powerful scene when the angel Clarence shows George Bailey the grave of his brother, Harry. His tombstone showed that his brother Harry died as a boy. George protested that it was not correct because his brother had won the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving all the lives of the men on a transport. The words of Clarence, the angel are haunting. Clarence said no, George, your brother Harry, broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine. That’s a lie, said George. Harry Bailey went to war. He got the Congressional Medal of Honor. He saved the lives of every man on that transport. Clarence said, every man on that transport died.  Harry wasn’t there to save them because you weren’t there to save Harry.” Leachman says, “There it is. I can see more than ever that life is a generational team effort. When I think of my life these days, I think in the context of all those who the Lord has sent, starting with those He sent to rescue me, to teach me, to instruct me in the way that I should go.” And then he kind of goes through the list. He says, “You know, honestly, I began to think of Malcolm Swain who taught me about Christ for the first time and led me into a relationship with Him. And it goes on down the line. This other man was my first Bible teacher as a teenager.” Then he thought of “this other man who mentored me in the Scriptures.” And he goes on and on and on. And he says, “But then I thought, I stepped back and I thought this. I thought of this guy Neb Hayden,” that some of you might know Neb [unintelligible] football at Alabama years ago, but he said, “Neb was the first person I knew, he was a great athlete, and he was really probably one of the first Christians I knew and Neb is the one who took me to Mal, and Mal is the one who led me to Christ. In other words, Neb just pointed me in that direction.” He goes on to say, “Whenever I speak to anyone about Christ, all the people who have taught me and influenced me are there as well.”

Now, yesterday morning, we were sitting here at this same table and I’m not going to mention the person’s name; I don’t like to mention names. I’ll just call this guy Tom. Tom was sitting right there where Buddy is. And Tom said, I don’t know how many of y’all have been through The Investigative Study, but he said, it changed my life. I became a Christian going through it. If you’ve never been through it, you ought to go through it. And then he looks across the table and pointed to the guy over here where Gary is sitting, his name we’ll just call him Bob. He said, and I never would have gone through it if Bob hadn’t suggested I go through it. And I said, well, Bob, and Bob said, I went through it too. That’s how I became a Christian. And I said, well, Bob, how did you end up over here? He said, because Jim gave me a CD of Jerry Leachman’s talk. One of the talks he gave at the Club. This was probably seven years ago. He said, and I was so moved by it, and so troubled by it, realizing how lost I was, and I called you.

Now, think about this. And by the way, the guy over here that I called Tom, I can’t tell you how many people he sent over here to go through The Investigative Study. I mean, we’ve got [unintelligible] it’s great. But think about; where did it all start? A guy handed him a CD and look at the ripple effect. Guys, I don’t think you realized how God can use us. If nothing more to point people to Christ, to point people to the Gospel. Any comment?

I got one final verse I want us to read, and then we’ll wrap this up. Everybody turn to I Corinthians 15. I love that the words of Henry Adams, he said this, and it was not meant to be spiritual, but it has a lot of truth to it. He says, “A teacher or a mentors impacts eternity because he never knows where his influence will end.”

And that’s true. What he’s saying is if you have an impact on one other person, that person may turn around and have an impact, who will then have an impact, and you never know where it ends. But that really has application when it comes to the Christian faith and eternity. Eternal has great application there. Everybody at I Corinthians 15? All right before I give you the verse to read, I want to remind you what Solomon said. In the book of Ecclesiastes, he uses certain words frequently. In other words, there’s a great deal of redundance in the book of Ecclesiastes, but there’s one word that I think maybe it’s more important than any of the other words, because it really kind of reflects the theme of life under the sun. And it’s the Hebrew word hevel, and it means empty, futile, and being of no value.

Now, the English translation in the NIV, the English translation is meaningless, or meaninglessness, but in the New American standard, which is what I use, he uses the word vanity, to be in vain. There are two different definitions. One is excess pride and that’s not what hevel means. It means to be of little value, to be of little worth, emptiness. And as you read the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon says, I did this, but after I did this, he said it was all vanity. I experienced this, but it’s all vain. He said, I built this. I did all these great works, but it was all vanity. It was all chasing after the wind.

And so, this was the question that I would leave you with. Is there anything in life that is not vanity? That is not vain? Is there anything that I can do with my life that has lasting [unintelligible]? Is it not in vain to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord?  I think this is at the heart of a meaningful life. Well, I think Paul clearly, Paul is absolutely right. God wants to do something in and through us. We’re His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do certain works out in the world that God prepared beforehand, and our own responsibility is that we would walk in them.

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