Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. — Ecclesiastes 1:2-4
This well-known phrase comes from King Solomon’s journal documenting his search for meaning in life. It captures the essential message of the entire book of Ecclesiastes; that life on this side of eternity is utterly meaningless and vain when it is lived without God.
Now that may sound overly pessimistic, but it is the necessary starting point for anyone who would become a follower of Jesus Christ. Unless we release any notion of finding joy, peace, and satisfaction in the things this world offers, we can never fully grasp that Jesus alone is the one to whom we should be looking.
Given that there are 31 uses of the word “vanity” in Ecclesiastes, that word deserves a closer look. In modern usage, we tend to think of vanity as excessive pride in one’s appearance, being conceited, maybe even arrogant. The original word used for vanity is hebel, which literally means vapor or breath and is used elsewhere in the Bible to refer to wind.
A full definition of the word hebel includes the words ineffectual, fleeting, ephemeral, waste, and the one I like best: absurd. All of these together capture the meaning, whereas none of the words alone really do it justice. This word points to the author’s complete frustration with the futility of life without God.
That frustration is actually a great realization! Unfortunately, it is one that people today are either missing or ignoring. They’d rather exert great effort attempting to find meaning in something other than God. You don’t have to look very hard to find people absorbed in the absurd; pursuing worldly knowledge, higher education, self-understanding, pleasure through all sorts of unhealthy means, success by way of position, power, and status, and some pursing a form of religion and piety void of true power.
All in an attempt to make sense of life without knowing the Life-giver.
Jesus called Himself, “The bread of life,” in John 8:35. He said, “ . . . whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Bread and water represent the essentials for life. What we really need comes from Him and from no one else.
It’s truly absurd and ultimately disappointing to look for it anywhere else. — Todd Dugard
Prayer – Almighty God, Giver of life, thank you for being my strength and sustainer. Forgive me when I live my life in meaningless pursuit of earthly treasures, when You are so willing to give me eternal treasures. Help me to know the difference between my will and Your good and perfect will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.