I stood up tall, my feet planted at an awkward angle to accommodate the hill that made up the side of my yard. Wiping the sweat from my eyes, I looked down at the mound of uprooted weeds on my lawn with a sense of accomplishment. But that moment of yard work-induced pride was short-lived. Retreating from the hill of juniper to the grass below, I turned back to see that my four hours of labor had made almost no difference. The fuzzy rows of shrubs seemed just as inundated with crabgrass, dandelions, and pricker bushes as before. I had sacrificed my morning, not to mention my back and much of the skin on my fingers, for nothing.
This is the image that pops into my head when I think of the word meaningless. As I read Ecclesiastes, I imagine all of life is like that hillside of weed-infested juniper, undeterred by our best efforts, leaving us worn out and broken, stretched and bruised and without hope. “‘Absolute futility,’ says the Teacher. ‘Absolute futility. Everything is futile’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). It’s no wonder Bible scholar N.T. Wright has dubbed the book of Ecclesiastes “the Eeyore of the Old Testament.” Its message is a difficult one to hear.
Ecclesiastes is no less inspired by the Spirit of God than is the Gospel of John or the book of Exodus, just as “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness” (2Timothy 3:16). It is for our benefit, then, that we join the Teacher, most likely King Solomon, on his melancholy journey to explore life “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). In fact, those three words—under the sun—may just be the key to unlocking the message of Ecclesiastes.
Solomon writes not of spiritual realities, but of earthly observations. He does not bring his father David’s hope of life in God’s presence to bear (Psalm 16:11), nor does he weigh his findings against the promise of the coming Messiah. Instead, like a good scientist whose time came too early, he records what he can discover with his natural senses “under the sun.” In that, Ecclesiastes is a friend. When we bump up against the harsh realities of life and the injustices that come with the brokenness of this world, we remember that Solomon has been there before us. We know we are not alone. In fact, in the darkness of a book like Ecclesiastes, if we adjust our gaze, the light of the gospel will appear to shine all the brighter.
Written by John Greco