Solomon begins the Book of Ecclesiastes with an enigmatic statement about life on this planet. He says it is “vanity”, some translations choose the word “meaningless”. The Hebrew word is hebel and is best translated as “vaporous”.
Solomon’s point is not that there is no purpose to life, but that we cannot fully understand the purpose of life. It is vaporous, like a puff of air or a wisp of smoke. We try to grab it and it slips around our fingers and into the air.
We all have a compulsion to understand. It is part of being human. To pursue knowledge and understanding. But there is a place where our capacity ends and trust begins. Faith is the true foundation for human knowledge.
It can be frustrating when our compulsion to understand is not being satisfied. We cannot control (or even foresee) how things will work out. There is so much we don’t comprehend, so much we cannot do. And often our reaction is to do nothing. To freeze. But the better path is to embrace a biblical perspective, which is rooted in trusting God.
The Book of Ecclesiastes is a book that shows us the potential of that perspective. It encourages us toward self-awareness and embracing the reality of life on earth. Life on earth is a mystery, a vapor. We don’t know all the whys and whats and whens. Solomon will argue that this is by design. The point of life is not to feed our compulsion to understand but to guide us into worship of its Creator, and enjoying our lives within God’s design. Adopting a true perspective about the nature of our world and the limitations of our self is the first step.
“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’ What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun? A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.”
– Ecclesiastes 1:2-4
The Book of Ecclesiastes is about how to accept a proper perspective of reality. Only then can we make effective decisions about who we trust and how we live. This is the first in a series of six devotionals centered on Solomon’s teachings in Ecclesiastes. We pray it challenges and encourages you.