The book of Ecclesiastes has a reputation of being heavy and depressing. This reputation is somewhat deserved, for the book deals with the concept of a life lived without God. The author, presumed to be Solomon, came to accurate and honest conclusions regarding a life lived outside of the will of God, whether it be as an atheist, who denies God outright, or as a pagan, who turns from the one true and living God to false gods and idols (which Solomon did). The conclusions of an atheistic or pagan lifestyle are heavy and depressing. Consider what Solomon said:
I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted. Ecclesiastes 1: 12 – 15
Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.” For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 2: 15 – 17
Without the one true God providing an objective body of truth by which Solomon could evaluate the various enigmas of life, he concluded that all was vanity and meaningless. Why labor hard when you are going to die and lose all you worked for? Why strive for wisdom when the fool meets the same fate (death)? These are appropriate conclusions to draw if there is no God or if He has not revealed His will to us. For considering that all go to the grave and cannot escape the clutches of death, many things of this life do seem futile and lacking ultimate meaning.
But Solomon did not stay down in the dumps; he also reflected upon the God of Israel, and a life lived according to His will, and despite the heaviness of Ecclesiastes there is also a hopeful tone. Solomon was able to see the meaning and purpose of earthly living based upon the light of the revelation of God.
I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor – it is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. Ecclesiastes 3: 12 – 14
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12: 13 – 14
Upon all his reflection, Solomon ends Ecclesiastes, in essence, with the Mosaic covenant – “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person”. It seems fitting that Solomon, having thoughtfully considered life with and without God, would return to the covenant of God given through Moses and preserved in Scripture, for it is the covenant of God that gave meaning and insight and purpose to Israel.
This notion of examining life lived outside of the covenant of God is also present in the New Testament. Just as Solomon reflected upon his apostasy, the Apostle Paul examined the claim of some Corinthians who said they were Christian but who denied that a body could be resurrected. These Christians wanted to receive the blessings of the New Covenant while denying the historical facts upon which the New Covenant is based. They wanted to live, so to speak, outside of the will of God, while still claiming to believe in God (just as Solomon did when his wives led him astray).
Just as the atheist wants to be able to deny God and yet claim there are objective truths on which one can base their life, these Christians Paul addressed wanted to claim they were Christian while denying an essential doctrine that is a basis of Christian faith. Paul did not grant them their wish, for he exposed their hypocrisy in claiming to believe in Jesus while denying bodily resurrection. Paul rightly told them that if they deny the resurrection, they deny the entire Christian faith and there has been no “once-for-all” answer for sin. In other words, life outside of the real Christ is meaningless, for there is no forgiveness of sin and only the judgment of God awaits us after death. False christs, such as a Jesus who exists outside of a real bodily resurrection, offer no hope.
However, just as Solomon was able to turn back to the God of Israel and appropriately evaluate life, Paul too was able to instruct the Corinthians of the truths of God that derive from the actual resurrection of Jesus and that allow one to appropriately understand life under the New Covenant.
One of the great Christian hopes due to the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is that we too will be resurrected and made alive in Christ for eternity. One day Jesus will return and claim His kingdom in full – those whom He has rejected will be sent away and those whom He has saved will live on a renewed earth as willing subjects under a righteous King.
In the meantime, between now and then, one of the primary meanings and purposes of a New Covenant Christian is to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ kingdom, since God desires the gospel to be made known to all people. Everyone, when Jesus returns, will either by part of His kingdom or will be sent away condemned to hell.
If they are condemned, having refused the forgiveness of Christ for the duration of their whole life, they will spend an eternity outside of the love of God, and they will lose all meaning and purpose. All of their earthly striving for pleasure and power, their continual rejection of God, will result in the heavy and depressing conclusions of Solomon: their life on earth will have been “vanity of vanities” and “meaningless”.