The Meaning of Life
We are a forgetful people. The Bible uses a lot of repetition and reminders because God knows our tendency to forget; to forget warnings that would spare us from harm, or to forget truths that offer joy and peace in the midst of trying times.
At too many points in life, and especially when we’re young, we’re also prone to forget that the years are racing by and our time is short.
Perhaps it’s that tendency to forget, especially among the young, that prompts the command which begins the last chapter of Ecclesiastes.
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come and the years draw near of
which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.”
Much of Ecclesiastes hinges on the words, “under the sun,” a phrase that depicts how most of the world looks at life. They are focused on the here and now, grasping for meaning and significance in things like work, pleasure, accomplishments, and knowledge; none of which offers real and lasting substance. They’re all fleeting - here for a moment like the smoke from a fire, appearing and then vanishing.
But, Ecclesiastes 12:1 urges us to remember our Creator. The Hebrew word for remember is not merely recalling facts, like don’t forget where you left your keys. It also implies thinking about something or meditating on it. So, it’s not merely remembering the fact of who God is or that He exists. It is meditating on who God is, as He has revealed Himself in His Word.
One writer put it this way: “It is best that we reflect upon these realities when we are young so that there will be fewer regrets and fewer missed opportunities… Wisdom helps us avoid later lamenting the times we were given but did not receive with thankfulness.” Jeffrey Meyers
Meditate on God now; avoid regrets years later, when physical challenges and limitations may creep in and distract us from meditating on Him.
At that point, the writer of Ecclesiastes uses a variety of illustrations to lament the physical effects of aging in a fallen world. Our eyesight starts to fail. Our body breaks down. Our strength diminishes. Our hearing grows weaker.
These are simply the harsh realities of growing old. Balance begins to fade. The fear of falling increases. Activities that once seemed normal now have an element of terror.
Ecclesiastes 12:5 says we are moving ever closer to that day of passing from here to our eternal home. It may seem like a harsh reality, but it is God’s kind way of warning us that our lives are fleeting. And we must remember our Creator…
before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is
broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern,
That final illustration compares our bodies to earthen vessels. There’s a beautiful golden lamp in the house that’s suspended by a silver chain, and a pitcher attached to a pulley that is dropped into a well. When the chain snaps or the wheel of the pulley breaks, the lamp and the pitcher fall. They are shattered, and no longer useful. The oil in the lamp and the water in the pitcher pour out on the ground, in a picture of life ebbing away and leaving the body.
“…the pictures of verse 6 capture the beauty and
fragility of the human frame; a masterpiece as
delicately wrought as any work of art, yet as breakable
as a piece of earthenware, and as useless in the end as
a broken wheel.” -- Derek Kidner
With the closing act of life under the sun, each and every person will stand accountable before the Creator. With that, the writer of Ecclesiastes repeats a familiar phrase:
Vanity of vanities, says the preacher; all is vanity.
The teacher ends exactly where he began. But, he’s not throwing his hands up at the end to say, “It’s all just meaningless.”
Instead, he’s once again using the Hebrew word Hebel to reinforce his fundamental message that our lives are fleeting. If you put all of your chips into finding peace and pleasure solely in this life, you’ll be disappointed. All of this will end, so clinging to it will prove futile.
As science has affirmed, matter is deteriorating. It’s falling apart. Material things are not eternal.
We cannot stop that slide or postpone the inevitability of death. Our bodies and the world around us that is under the sun, are all wearing out and fleeting, so it’s futile to stake your meaning and hope and joy in them.
It may be tempting to see the madness and futility and fleeting nature of life, and to conclude, “What’s the point? Stuff happens to me that I can’t control. It’s like I’m running on a hamster wheel. So, why bother?
Here’s the answer:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and
keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of
man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with
every secret thing, whether good or evil.
In the end, everything does matter. Our lives, our thoughts, our actions, our inactions all happen in the presence of the God who made us and sustains us, so there are no throw-away moments that are utterly meaningless. Even when you feel like no one is watching and no one cares, God is watching, and He cares.
Ecclesiastes is meant to teach you how to live in the valley of the shadow of death, even when you don’t think you’re in that valley. You are closer to standing before God than you think.
Thus, the call to “remember your Creator.” Everything is fleeting, except for God and your soul. The one eternal rock we can cling to who is not wearing out is the God who made you. And, we are His creatures. So, think about Him. Regard Him in all you do. Believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, who gave His life to die on the cross to save sinners and to give them abundant new life.
The chief duty of man in the short time we have in this life under the sun is to know God and to trust in Him. It is to recognize that our lives are a gift from the Creator, and our greatest joy is living in awe of Him and joyfully following Him.