Rev. Andrew Ratcliffe
Meaningless (NIV). Useless (GNT). Vanity (ESV). Futile (TLB). Absolutely pointless (GW)! Depending on your translation, that's how King Solomon begins his short book entitled Ecclesiastes. Of all people why would Solomon—King over God's people, builder of God's Temple, political alliances abounding, gifted by God with wisdom beyond compare—reflect on life and come to conclusion that everything has been useless, that it's been pointless? Yet he writes, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:2). "I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind" (1:14). "I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun" (2:18). "For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity" (2:23).
If you think about it, it's not that surprising really. How often have you wondered the same? You pour time, and energy, and more time into a friendship. But it seems you're doing all of the giving and there's nothing given in return. Is that friendship meaningless? Perhaps it's pointless. You strive to perform well on the job, accomplishing tasks ahead of schedule, assisting others and being proactive in addressing work-related needs. But your service isn't rewarded or recognized, and not like that person next to you. Don't you have value as an employee? Is your work meaningless? You try to listen to your mom and dad. You try not to yell or talk back, but your mom and dad just don't seem to get it. They won't listen and it seems like you're always in trouble. You wonder: Am I meaningless? When the world seems to cave in around you, when no one seems to listen, when there's no apparent way out, or no way to get relief, then doubt sets in. Self-esteem wanes. You wonder, "Am I useless? Is life meaningless?"
How could King Solomon make such a statement? How could we?
Yet, Solomon's words provide us with a moment to stop, think, and reflect on how these things are not meaningless. Even more so, Solomon's words cause us to stop and give thanks that a life lived in Christ is always meaningful.
First, these things are not meaningless. Friendship: While I do not suggest you place yourself in relationships where you are taken advantage of or not truly appreciated, any loving service you provide to anyone is still meaningful, be it friend, family member, or coworker. Work: It's great to be recognized! Even when you're not, performing a job well is faithfully living out a meaningful life of vocation to which God calls you. Family: Even when things go awry, with parents and children getting on one another's nerves, each time confession and absolution—forgiveness—is shared as family, you can't get more meaningful than that! Life: If you've ever had the chance to sit with someone contemplating self-harm or suicide, you've had the chance to share the beauty, presence, and meaning that life has as it is rooted in our God, in Christ. These things are not meaningless.
Second, you are not meaningless. No matter how much you doubt, no matter how much your perceived value seems to slip away, no matter how much the "joy" seems to be sucked out of life, Ecclesiastes 2:26 remains true: "To the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy." God has given you joy! Because you please Him, He gives you joy! Not because of what you think, say and do, trying to look like a "good" Christian. It's all because of Jesus. Your joy is found in Christ alone. Your value is found in Christ alone. You "please" God because of Christ alone.
On the cross Jesus took all of the sin—your sin, my sin—that devalues, that is pointless, that left within makes us meaningless. Jesus became meaningless for you, taking sin upon Himself, becoming the lowest of the low, giving Himself up to death. In rising from the grave He shows sin has no power over you to devalue you or drag you down. And in the seemingly meaningless means of bread and wine, He forgives, sustains and strengthens you with His very Body and Blood. In Christ alone, who gave His life for you, you are precious, treasured, valued and meaningful in God's eyes at all times. Thanks be to God! In Jesus' name, Amen.
Andrew Ratcliffe serves as pastor at St. John Lutheran in Seward, Nebraska.
Created: August 17th, 2016