Is Life a Vanity?

Jeff Munroe

Read: Ecclesiastes 2:12-26

How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. (vv. 16-17)

I really am trying to be enthusiastic about Ecclesiastes, but there are passages—and this is one of them—that are sooo depressing. I want to shout back to Qoheleth, “CHEER UP!” Life isn’t a vanity, and our lives matter. I love the lines at the close of George Eliot’s classic novel Middlemarch that capture the life of that book’s main character: “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

“Beautiful words,” says Qoheleth, “but the person still died.” Death happens to all, the wise and foolish alike. Biblical scholar David Hubbard summarizes this passage this way, “Death is a haunting reality diminishing the value of wisdom, erasing the memory of even the wise, and transferring our hard-earned gains to persons unsuited for them” (Communicator’s Commentary, Vol. 15B, p. 91). Even Solomon, with all his wealth, power, status, and wisdom, died without understanding the ultimate mysteries of life. Yet Christians believe there is more than this life and death. Our hope is in someone greater than Solomon, who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). —Jeff Munroe

Prayer: Even death, O Lord, does not separate us from knowing you.