06 July 2010

Under the sun, nothing has meaning

I'm struggling a little with my late thirties. A deep insecurity that speaks "I'm missing something" nags at my conscience. The conversations in my head begin with questions; existential questions.
Shouldn't I have a bigger impact on the world by now?
Am I leading my family to glory or ruins?
How can I be so restless and exhausted at the same time?
In my twenties existential questions were less specific ("What is the meaning of life?") and a matter of vanity. They marked the deep, pipe-smoking, thoughtful hipster. Today they are natural and necessary. Or are they?

The book of Ecclesiastes is meant to give an unsettling answer to all of our existential questions. It's premise is simply... "So what? Why bother yourself with these questions? What does anything under the sun mean anyway?" In this book, it seems that Solomon is throwing in the towel on life.  He has just won the Experimentation Superbowl and concluded it was ALL a waste of time... or would be if it weren't for joy. It seems God's plan is that we be happy in the experiences of life that would be meaninglessness apart from God but, when they are received as from his hand, act as excellent pointers to His power and grace. "Joy", as Lewis put it, "is the serious business of heaven." God is glorified as we live in the meaningless moments- joyfully connected to Him. The Ecclesiastical-ly meaningful life exists joyfully in the present with God not fretfully in the past or future without Him.

Doug Wilson's Joy at the End of the Tether is an asset while reading Ecclesiastes. I commend both to you heavy-laden, purpose seekers (who used to wear flannel and listen to grunge... or still do).

Some excerpts:
"The gift of God does not make this meaninglessness go away; the gift of God makes this vanity enjoyable.
Man cannot be thought of as an artesian well. Nothing inherent in him enables him to enjoy his creature comforts. He has no innate capacity to enjoy. Further, this is God's doing- God is the one who has imposed this inexorable law upon us (Eccl. 2:24-25). Who can enjoy even his food apart from God?

God always dispenses His gifts with a sovereign and majestic grace. The gifts are wisdom and knowledge and joy. Wisdom is a grace, and knowledge is also a grace, but note particularly the last of these - joy. Joy is a crowning gift of God in this meaningless world. The seraphim experience joy in the presence of God, but honestly, that is to be expected. It is not the angels He helps. We are given the privilege of experiencing joy here, in the midst of ongoing disobedient and imbecilic chaos. Joy, yes, but mirabile dictu, the joy is here
How can an unexamined piety differ from the blind gropings of a fool? What is the hallmark of wisdom in this fallen world? The answer is joy at the end of the tether."
Additional Resources
Video of Wilson explaining the origins of "Joy at the End of the Tether" on Vimeo.
"I can help daddy"
Monotony or Encore?
Reaching for Heaven?


  1. Ecclesiastes feels like sitting down with a man who's half Rooster Cogburn, half CS Lewis... Joyful, and yet very stoic and no-nonsense. A man with a patch on one eye and a twinkle in the other.

  2. Very well said. May we be salty like that.

  3. Anonymous3:58 PM

    Ecclesiates is an encouraging book for me because of how Solomon just simplifies things. It's so refreshing. Life isn't as complex as we make it out to be and we need a gut check every now and then to help us remember our place and just rest in who God is and how it's about His glory. Just started Wilson's book...