The other day I read an article on CBC stating that “Mental illness will be (the) ‘next wave’ of (the) COVID-19 pandemic, according to epidemiologists, because of people being in prolonged isolation. Consequently, I am staying on the topic of mental illness. It can be such a taboo topic to many, even Christians, but it is nevertheless important that we speak and be open about it. “We very speedily care for bodily diseases; they are too painful to let us slumber in silence; and they soon urge us to seek a physician or a surgeon for our healing. Oh, if we were as much alive to the more serious wounds of our inner man” – wise words from 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon. All of us know what to do or who to call if our bodies get sick, but what do we do when our minds are unwell?
As we are stripped of many things, being confined to our respective homes during lockdown, perhaps without a job or any physical human interaction, we can start to feel that we have no purpose, that we are perhaps completely alone, that no one really cares for us – that is when depression can really ‘settle down’ in our minds, and suicide becomes a tempting thought. It is my prayer that perhaps I can help you see, through the perspective of the preacher in Ecclesiastes, that there is one thing that can give us true meaning and purpose in life.
As I said in my previous article, dark times or periods of suffering can be opportunities to draw closer to our Creator. Being by yourself, alone with your own thoughts, can bring you to ask these significant questions about life: Where do we come from? Where are we going to when we die? Why are we here? Who or what am I? Do you have assuring answers to all of these questions?
The preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes asked similar questions. We are not a hundred percent sure who the author was, but we’re assuming that it was King Solomon, reflecting on life in his twilight years. References such as “son of David, king of Jerusalem” (Ecc 1:1), draw us to that conclusion.
The book starts in the following way:
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.” Ecc 1:2-5 ESV
With what busyness do we go about life, chasing after this and that, from sunrise to sunset. And at the end of the day, is it all worth it? It is meaningful at all? Or does it come to nothing? Throughout the book the preacher is on a contemplative journey to figure out if there is anything that gives true meaning and purpose to life.
As Solomon was indeed a very wise man, he wondered if wisdom could be the one thing giving meaning to life, but towards the end of chapter 1, we see that “this also is but a striving after wind” (Ecc 1:17).
Next, the preacher thought about pleasure and self-indulgence. Those with access to Netflix have an almost endless variety of movies or shows to watch, and I’m sure some people might be binge-watching in this time. I have also seen a surge of new recipes and “Do-It-Yourself” or craft video’s online. While we can definitely gain momentary pleasure from entertainment, food or hobbies, does it truly give us meaning in life? The preacher realized that this too “was vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecc 2:11).
At the end of chapter 2, the preacher looked towards his “toil” – we can translate this into today’s time by thinking of our careers. Surely this is something that gives meaning to our lives, isn’t it? After all, some of us slave away at it 24/7 to support our families or to receive a special promotion. But, alas! Nothing that we gain from our careers can we take into our graves or beyond – “…sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil” (Ecc 2:21).
This brings us to the crux of the matter. The preacher interrupts his journey in chapter 3 with a haunting poem about the futility of life…everything has a beginning and an end – “…a time to be born, and a time to die…” (Ecc 3:2). Everyone dies; those who live good lives, as well as those who live evil lives. Whether it be from COVID-19, cancer, a car accident or simply old age. The clock is ticking! Is there anything that lasts forever? Perhaps that is where meaning can be found.
In the first article of this series, I mentioned that death always shocks and surprises us, even though it is a normal part of life. The preacher tells us why in chapter 3, verse 11: “…he (God) has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Every single one of us has this gnawing ache in our hearts that we were made for something bigger, perhaps for another place, another life, that this can not be the end. God placed that ache in our hearts to show us that we can only ever find true meaning and satisfaction in God Himself. “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him (Ecc 3:14).
It is true – we were ultimately made for another place and another life; to spend eternity with Jesus and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the New Heavens and New Earth. But that doesn’t make our earthly lives pointless. The preacher even said on numerous occasions that “…there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man” (Ecc 3:12-13).
We are allowed to enjoy food, movies, books, entertainment, art, sports, our jobs, our studies – God gave them to us as gifts, after all – but it is not what gives us true meaning and purpose in life. “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth…”(Ecc 12:1); “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man (Ecc 12:13). We were made for God; to be in relationship with Him and to enjoy Him and share Him with others. If we miss this, we miss our whole life, and we forfeit eternity.