Week of June 9

Rising above the Meaningless in Life

Read: Ecclesiastes 1-3; Psalm 45; Ephesians 2

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
Ecclesiastes 1:2, ESV
“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”
Ephesians 2: 4-5, ESV


“All is vanity” represents one of the most recognized claims in the Scriptures and one of the most pervasive worldviews throughout history. Oddly, people know that Solomon pens these words in Ecclesiastes, but do not search further to understand their meaning and find the answer to meaninglessness. “Everything is transitory and therefore of no lasting value. People are caught in the trap of the absurd and pursue empty pleasures. They build their lives on lies” (NAC). The point is to search and find that which transcends the temporal! The king certainly was not presenting to us a treatise on futility; instead, he wanted us to know the ultimate benefit of finding God to be the center of our lives.

The Meaning of the Text

Discovering meaning in the meaningless
“Everything is meaningless” reads like the mantra of some postmodern philosopher, but these opening words of Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, form the theme of the book. The precise meaning in the words is a mystery, even though they have been widely examined (1:2). He writes literally that all is a “vapor” or “breath,” and we might say, “here today and gone tomorrow.” Poof! Well, this is a mighty depressing way to begin a morning devotional, isn’t it?! Rather than despair, however, we will dive more deeply into this passage and surface again after several paragraphs in Ephesians 2.
Learn important life lessons
Life is passing, so live it with purpose. Solomon, by claiming that all is vanity, does not want you and me to throw up our hands and question whether life is worth it. He instead is calling to our attention that life is fleeting, so we should make certain to live it properly and with the right purpose. Solomon may also be pointing out injustices the righteous must often bear when he uses the word “vanity” (Hebrew, hebel; cf. 8:14). In these cases, he intends for his readers to understand that life can seem to be “absurd.” (NAC).
Live beyond temporal pleasures. Injustice is not how the world was meant to operate and violates God’s moral order in creation (cf. Proverbs 8 and “wisdom”). The king knew that the world was “warped,” and he longed for people to receive what they truly deserved. There is more to Solomon’s word “vanity.” He points to the fact that the pursuit of pleasure is a “waste of time” and “fails to satisfy” (2:1-2; NAC). One may say that “vanity” in this context may be best translated as “meaningless” (cf. “foolish”). Our deep dive in Solomon’s meaning is complete, so let’s surface now in Ephesians 2 before we drown in all this uselessness!
The path to purpose
Life is murky and we are all drowning in it, according to Solomon, so it will do us well to seek the clear truth from God Himself. Humankind bears the fault for living meaningless lives; but rather than reject us, God has chosen to save us. Paul writes to let us know that love led to “mercy” (Ephesians 2:4; EBC). God, in His compassion, dove into this murky mess called a world and rescued us from sin and death (cf. John 1:14; Romans 5:8). We were dead in our futile sinfulness, but He made us alive together in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:5). This transformation has come to us by God’s power. He will also raise us from the grave in the end times and seat us with Him in the heavenlies, forever erasing the wretchedness of an earthly existence. Why? Grace, grace, God’s grace; grace that has pardoned and cleansed within! Now this gift of grace will kick off our morning!

The Message for Your Heart

A twenty-nine-year-old woman in the Netherlands sought and won permission to end her life via euthanasia. She had been an outcast much of her life: estranged from her siblings, rejected by her mother, she then grieved the loss of her father from cancer. She was diagnosed with Autism at 21, and suffered from severe mental health issues. She saw no reason to continue living and sought to end her life. I present her case because it is powerfully tragic. I am reminded that life presents us with profound complexities and extreme injustices, and we must be prepared to offer deep and meaningful hope, not simplistic answers.
Jesus was approached by a man who similarly lived in extreme isolation (Luke 8:26-39). He was characterized by his violent disposition (8:29b) and his tortured mental state (8:30-31). He had long since been abandoned by family and friends (8:27b). The Savior changed all that by bringing healing into the man’s life (8:29) and reintroducing him to his community (8:39). We know that there are countless people in our world, some of whom may be reading this passage, that have slipped beneath the murky waters of a fleeting, unjust, and tortured existence, thinking no one can rescue them. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (2:8). Without wanting to sound trite, the “life vest” of Christ, as it were, has been thrown to us. Grab on to it. God cares and gives to you fresh hope and new life today in Christ.

For Thought and Action

1. For the hopeless: Read again the two focal passages and write down the ways that you feel your life is fleeting, riddled with injustices, and filled with boredom. Then, read God’s invitation to receive new life! Ask God to rescue you from the sin that is pulling you beneath the surface. He will.
2. For the flailing Christian: Sometimes it takes passages like these to remind us that Christ has been given to us as a lifeline, so we have no need to despair in this life. We have been redeemed, so we need to live as those who have been given new life. Live with joy today.
3. For Family: Our younger children may not ever have felt the despair we can picture in Solomon’s words, as he calls life nothing but “Vanity.” Our older teens and young adults can more easily relate to them, however. Life has a way of peeling back the security and joy and, sometimes, even our own children are found to be losing hope.

We have often suggested, in this devotional section, that we parents keep open lines of communication with our children from babyhood, and intentionally build trust through their childhood years. When this happens, our teens’ questions about life’s meaning are easier to handle. This week might be a great time to invite your older sons and daughters, one at a time, for a night out. See a movie or go get special coffee together. Go watch the stars on your back from a hilltop or play music together. Go for a walk around the park or take in a play or concert.

Create a warm, caring space, and make sure your teen has an uninterrupted opportunity to talk about whatever is on their heart. Listen well, and pray silently that God will strengthen your relationship and the trust between you. Because Christ is in you, around you, above and behind you, and He gives hope that never fails, your teen can take courage and live fully under His wings. The next day, share Psalm 91 in a text as a wonderful assurance and encouragement.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock