The other day, at a stop sign my daughter pointed out a nice young man running. “Daddy, that man has no shirt.” Mmmmhmmmm. “I can see that man’s muscle packs.” True… There they were. “Daddy, I wish we could see your muscle packs. Maybe you need to lose fat.” I hate life – sometimes. Sometimes I hate life. In the past years I hate it most, as I’ve said before, because it’s fickle – it goes away too fast. People die – children, parents – bleh. It’s all passing and irreverent, stolid and cold. But, more than that, even in the doing it’s unfulfilling. I work and gain but there’s always more to pay. I do and someone’s always doing better. I might wisely plan and spend energy and time and, even if things work, nothing lasts, not really – and I won’t last either. I get tired. I have fat and it doesn’t just go away anymore – it requires even more work. I’ll confess. With life very often, I’m not satisfied.
I don’t think that’s too much; too far. Are you satisfied? In a way, how could you be? Think of the futility of all this. You just can’t get your mind around it. You’ve invested 25 years in that company. You were five years from retiring and they showed you the door. What a waste. You have to be on call all weekend; the work projects are just overwhelming. It seems like the harder you work, the more you work and in the end you’re neglecting everything else. What’s the use? Indeed, these days and your work, they’re pain and frustration. Work works you dog-tired and when you go to bed it wears a track in the carpet of your brain with its incessant pacing. It sets your heart to racing with anticipation and fears. It spends you till there’s nothing left.
And, even if it’s really great… Some of you have really great jobs. You’ve advanced and grown a business or a career and you’re at the top of things: paid well, pension/401K, new house – you reached retirement; you’re working on beneficial, monumental things. But you’re gonna die! And all that stuff you wisely put together, that you spent hours and years toiling over…somebody else is going to stand on the heap of your stuff, king of your hill, owner of your intellectual property, and raise his flag over it all. And he might be a complete dope. Unfair. A great wickedness this.
It’s like running after the wind. It’s all a vapor. It’s like the dandelion in the bulletin – life’s beautiful in it’s blooming but then it’s blasted away with a whoosh. It’s unsatisfying. It’s meaningless.
That’s what God says through Solomon this morning. Our first verse: “Meaningless! Meaningless!… Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” That word “meaningless” is used over 30 times in Ecclesiastes. Literally, it describes something like that picture in the bulletin – a breeze, a wind, a vapor, smoke – something ungraspable and passing, but Solomon isn’t using it to make scientific observations. It’s affective – the word marks how horrible all this feels. It’s the ungraspable, frustrating inability to find fulfillment in work and that there’s no control: you work, someone else gets it all in the end. (2:19) It’s that feeling we have that sin doesn’t always bring punishment, righteousness doesn’t always win. Who knows whether the person who gets all your stuff, the benefit of my godly work, whether he’ll be righteous or a sinful fool. (2:19) Or, to be far too cynical with 2:26 – God’s gonna give it all to whomever he chooses anyway; whomever he likes, he favors. It’s the shortness of life and how transitory, empty, vacuous it all is. Just blows away. It’s meaningless. It’s vanity. It’s vapor. It’s unsatisfying.
No wonder Solomon says in 2:17, just before our section, “I hated life…” And to consider it in a way that is more than curmudgeonly, that actually tugs on our faith, this is how it is: this world and our own sinful natures try desperately to enmesh us in the idea that this is all there is, that this all is everything. And there’s sin enough in all the grievous getting; greed and coveting tempts us; the idolatry of our wisdom and power tempts us too. But Solomon’s past that. He’s at the place the world doesn’t want to acknowledge. That we know there’s more than just all this. You can stand over all your heaps of treasure, finally, only to watch it all blow away – disease, war, death, hate, thievery. Martin Luther summed up Solomon’s general aim this way, “[I]f none of these things nor anything else amounts to anything, it follows that everything is vain and useless.” Life purely in this realm is absurd, brief, monotonous, unfulfilling and unsatisfying. We are all by nature longing for more. And when we realize it, we can also be tempted with despair. Meaningless, meaningless. I hate all this. How unsatisfying it is! Every human being ought to see it.
There was one man though who found perfect fulfillment in his work. Who knew about richness, found total satisfaction in life. His life, his work, he said in another place, was to do the will of the Father in heaven. There was his satisfaction: God’s will. His name is Jesus, and the work he did, he did for all human beings, for you. He laid down his life in death to bring you life. Not just any life, mind you, but life with God in all its fullness – now and for all eternity. The only way to find satisfaction in this life is to find yourself in this life…
It makes me think of my favorite Disney movie, one called Big Hero 6. To summarize, Hiro, the protagonist, his life has lost meaning and direction. His parents and then his older brother have died. He’s only resurrected when he discovers his brother’s greatest robotics project: the inflatable and unflappable First-Aid robot Baymax. As a counterpoint to Hiro’s anger and search for vengeance, Baymax selflessly says: “Your health is my only concern.” As the story progresses, Baymax’ selfless programming reprograms Hiro’s vengeful spirit – there’s joy, friendship, recovery montage song sequences, intense battle scenes, sci-fi coolness and the realization that vengeance isn’t ours to take. The story’s spirit reaches a climax like this… After trying to save someone else and with all hope lost, Hiro and Baymax dangle helpless inside a portal to another universe. His rockets malfunctioning, Baymax realizes that he can sacrifice himself so that Hiro might escape and live. He will blast his friend back through the portal and shut himself down and be lost forever. But only as he’d been programmed to work. Before he can shut down, he must hear his patient, his friend, answer this question, “Are you satisfied with your care?”
Perhaps our life-assessment ought to go this way. Solomon isn’t this explicit in Ecclesiastes, but when he points us in v.24 to find satisfaction in what God gives, we can seek it out in this way. Not so much to ask whether we are satisfied with life, but to acknowledge how we are satisfied in God’s care. And it begins with repentance of your chasing after things that are meaningless and temporary; and turn away from despair that attends them; and finding true satisfaction in this. Literally, when Solomon calls you to “find satisfaction” in v.24 in work and life it is “to see the good”. See the good that has come from the hand of God. Jesus’ sacrifice – his dying on the cross – has paid for our guilt and sins. His selfless love covers our greed – his promising power pushes away our despair – his death brings us life. His care has set us into the fullness of God’s love. You are not just homework and achievements and savings to be passed off to another… no, you “have been raised with Christ…your life is hidden with Christ in God…” You are ones who please him.
At Solomon’s lead this morning, “set your hearts on things above and not on earthly things.” You, my friends, live each day in the reality that you are anchored in life with God in heaven above because of what Christ has done no matter what is happening here. Be satisfied in Christ’s care and live his gift… Throw yourself into the life God has given you now. Be the best husband you can be to your wife. Be the best wife, the best father or mother, the best son or daughter you can be. Be a friend or the best worker you can be. Be who God made you to be. In Christ Jesus he has cared for you so… And with all his fullness at work in you by faith, he is supplying for you and others in this meaningless world so that we find meaning and hope in him.
When we leave this place, then, life is meaningful. We are satisfied. Not in what we can cram into our storehouses. Nor in that all we work will be left for someone good. No, rather, in the Word and the work of God. For there we find the incredible joy of knowing God’s care for us in Christ. In Jesus Christ, life and work, eating and drinking, having and using, money and pleasure – in these we are satisfied. Because people pleasing to God by faith see his good work in everything and know that, by his good gifts, we have a great many opportunities to glorify his name and to fill others lives with this satisfaction – in knowing the care God has supplied for them in Jesus Christ – the kind that will not pass away on the wind but will carry us into everlasting life with him.