50 – Solomon’s Secret
Kyle said, “I’m 28 years old. My wife and I deeply love each other. We both work, we like our work, we’re making good money, and we have every material thing we want. My relationship with the Lord is good-I’ve been a Christian for seven years.
“But I told my wife last week: ‘We get up, make the bed, go to work, come home, make dinner, wash dishes, clean the house, relax a little, go to bed, then get up the next morning and do it all over again. It’s all so boring.'” To me he said, “What’s the point?”
After one of our Success That Matters Seminars, Elliot came up to speak and said, “You know that plaque you were talking about in your message-the one the salesman worked so hard to get? That’s me.” With tears welling in his eyes he continued, “Two weeks ago I received a plaque for being the top salesman in my company. But it just doesn’t satisfy. There is no purpose. It didn’t mean anything. What’s the use?”
Not a week goes by that we don’t hear similar thoughts expressed in dozens of ways. Solomon observed the same thing. He put it this way: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
Why doesn’t success satisfy? And why does failure hurt so badly? What is the point? What is the use? And where is God in all of it?
I’ve been teaching a series on Ecclesiastes entitled Solomon’s Twelve Secrets at our TGIF Men’s Bible Study each Friday here in Orlando. I must confess that for 25 years, every time I read these words – “Meaningless! Meaningless!” – I assumed that Solomon was saying one thing but meant something else. Surely there is some “deeper, hidden” meaning, I thought.
Guess what? To my utter amazement, after studying to the depth of teaching it-that’s exactly what he meant! Everything is meaningless!
The plot thickens. Solomon devoted himself to study and explore with wisdom all that is done under the sun (1:13). He wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do during the few days of their lives (2:3). He wanted to know what a man gains for all his toil (3:9).
He took us on his own journey to answer these questions. Ecclesiastes chronicles his experimentation with wisdom, folly, pleasure, laughter, wine, great projects, wealth accumulation, sex, and hard work.
What did he observe? He said, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (2:11).
Also, “What a heavy burden God has laid on the backs of men!” (1:13). Interesting. Solomon lays the blame for meaninglessness (synonyms: futility, vanity, frustration, insignificance) at the feet of God! Is that true?
Where from futility?
Actually, the New Testament says the same thing. Paul writes, “For the creation was subjected to frustration” (Romans 8:20). When the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, was written, the translators chose Paul’s Greek word for “frustration” to render Solomon’s “meaningless.” In other words, Paul’s frustration and Solomon’s meaningless are one and the same!
Paul continued, “For the creation was subjected to frustration not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it (God).” Remarkable! Paul agrees that God is the cause of vanity, meaninglessness, and frustration!
Well, why would God do such a thing? He did it, Paul says, “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
In other words, God does it for our own good! But why? Because He knows that if you and I can glean any meaning in any worldly pursuit apart from Him – we’d take it! Doesn’t your own history confirm it?
Solomon demolishes even the possibility of finding any meaning apart from God. He wants us to see this: Apart from God life has no meaning.
The Sovereignty of God
Recently I said to my wife, “The most comforting doctrine of Scripture to me is the sovereignty of God. I just find it so calming to know that in the middle of our storms and at all other times, that the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, all-good God is in charge.”
Perhaps the biggest paradox of Christianity is: How can God be sovereign and man be free at the same time? It seems like a logical inconsistency.
Solomon said, “I know everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him” (3:14). God exercises His sovereignty to induce our reverence.
Here’s one of the biggest ideas of the entire Bible: God uses futility as His chief tool to sovereignly draw us to Himself of our own free will.
God makes us feel the weight of futility in every worldly pursuit – getting the big promotion, making the big bucks, living in the big house, or getting none of those things. He makes us so miserable through futility that we chose Him of our own free will. He removes any possibility of meaning except in Him.
Read this verse again: “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him” (3:14).
How does God sovereignly use futility? God will not force you to revere Him, but He will make it impossible to be happy unless you do.
Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, “I believe the motive power of all our actions is personal happiness.”
We each want to be happy. Nothing could be more obvious. Yet, why is happiness so fleeting? … so fickle?
At the age of 31 Brett has 24 people reporting to him. Yet he said, “I’m just not happy.” He finds it hard to see how his work is important. Happiness is fleeting when we pursue it apart from God.
If you get exactly what you want you will still not be happy without God. In other words, God loves us so much that He makes life into misery when we leave Him out of it.
Yet, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (2:24,25). (3:12,13).
Wow! God is not only the author of futility, He not only lays heavy burdens on the backs of men, but He is the author of satisfaction and enjoyment!
I asked Kyle – the man at the beginning of this article – what he was doing to serve the Lord? He said, “You know, I’m really not doing anything to serve God. Actually, everything in my life has been focused on me – getting what I want, meeting my needs, advancing my career.”
After a few more minutes, Kyle saw that he was “getting” from God but not “giving” back. He said, “Recently, I’ve been telling my wife I think I’m supposed to become a leader. Now I know what that’s about.” We discussed learning his spiritual gifts, then networking with his pastor and in the workplace to find an opportunity to “serve God by serving others.” Without God – and serving Him as an expression of gratitude – our lives will have no meaning. Our lives will not be happy.
Consider these questions about your own life:
1. Are you happy or not, and why?
2. How have you been pursuing meaning and significance?
3. Have you been thinking, “It’s all so boring. What’s the point? There is no purpose. What’s the use? Everything seems meaningless and futile?” If so, how closely have your goals and ambitions been linked to God?
4. Which of the following ideas strike a nerve? How should you respond?
Apart from God, life has no meaning.
If you get exactly what you want you will still not be happy without God.
God will not force you to revere him, but He will make it impossible for you to be happy unless you do.
Futility is the chief tool which God uses to sovereignly draw you to Himself of your own free will.
Without God – and serving Him as an expression of gratitude – our lives will have no meaning. Our lives will not be happy.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
© 1998. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved.