Nothing New Under the Sun?
The “Preacher” has just examined the course of “nature” and has come up with a pessimistic conclusion that everything is useless or meaningless. We as Christians who can see above the horizon of the sun to God who has made everything according to His eternal purpose. The rhythms of nature are God’s gift of grace for the sustenance of life on this planet. But instead of praising God for the gift of life itself, the Preacher concludes that everything is vanity and a chasing after the wind. Verses 5 through 7 show that even scientific observation of the universe will ultimately end in futility when God is removed from the thinking of men, in particular the God who is revealed as creator of all in Scripture. The world is building all kinds of particle colliders and spending astronomical amounts of money exploring the universe. But even one of their own, Stephen Hawken sees the universe as eternally expanding into nothingness. The other great thinkers of the world have come up with the same dismal conclusion.
The preacher picks up on his rant in verse 8. The rant began in verse two when the teaching of the Preacher is summed up that everything is useless and that everything one does is profitless and useless because death consumes him and rusts his legacy. He only saw “nature” itself going one in wearying circles. What he saw reflected the emptiness that was within his own heart. He had a bad case of what we would call “going around in circles” or “stuck in a rut”. Others would call the preacher seriously depressed.
He does sound tired. In verse 8, he says that all work is nothing but weary labor. It almost sounds like the modern person who spends all of his life working to acquire stuff to enjoy without having any time or energy to enjoy that which he has accumulated. What makes the book of Ecclesiastes so valuable to study is that there is a timelessness about it. All of the new fads in thought or fashion have already happened, and everything we do will be repeated by a future generation.
This desire for individual significance is a universal one which has been affected by the fall of Adam and Eve. It is called by many names: “autonomy”, “self-respect”, “self-esteem”, “the ‘me’ generation”, “seeking for fifteen minutes of fame” and other such definitions. We all want to be original, that in some way we have contributed something unique to society. This desire for individual significance and purpose is expressed in many ways. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes had the means and leisure to try most of these means. But he is not a man who is very close to the heart of God. He only addresses God by the generic name Elohim in Hebrew and never by the covenant name of Yahweh (Jehovah). The God he presents is distant, arbitrary, and uncaring for the most part. This view is similar to that of a group of people who called themselves “Deists” who thought God created the universe and its laws, but was not providentially and personally involved in it.
We see this desire for individually in many ways. In academics, one has to provide original research and approaches in a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. Hollywood stars vie for attention by seeing who can be the most debauched. Others seek it by going “postal” and maiming and killing others. The thing is, though, that none of these approaches for attention are new. In the very attempt to express individuality, they have only copycatted the works of others. How depressing is that for the person who wants to be something!
The desire for self-fulfillment, to be a god in one’s self puts man on a wild goose chase. The preacher says that one will never be satisfied in what he sees or hears. No matter how much they see, hear, or have, they want more. They are ever striving to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But as fast as they progress toward the rainbow, it recedes before them and eventually dissolves into nothingness. This so characterizes the restless world we find ourselves in today.
The ancient Greeks had some of the most penetrating minds who ever lived. With their minds they tried to get to the core of all reality. They searched after their own Higg’s Boson, the god particle which physicists seek after, a god without any content and meaning which was supposed to explain everything. They attempted to find the unity behind all existence. This unity was best expressed by the greatest of the Greek philosophers, Aristotle. He finally found a god called the “unmoved mover” or “thought thinking itself” which was the first cause of all things. Aristotle came to this conclusion by trying to find what any two things in common. For example, a cow and a pig are both mammals, a mammal and a bird were both animals, an animal and a plant were both living, and living things and inanimate objects exist. What is the final comparison? They are the things that exist and those that do not. What do they have in common? Nothing. But nothing is not nothing. It is something because we can describe it. This unifying principle then, which he calls “God” is nothing but the null set in mathematics, not the God of the Bible. In other words, Aristotle’s god is meaningless. All attempts to find meaning in life without God who is the creator of all, sustainer of all, and redeemer is doomed to Aristotle’s meaningless existence.
The conclusion of the Greek’s pursuit is exactly the same as Hawken’s who say that the universe must and did create itself out of nothing. For all of Hawken’s brilliance, he is not original in his conclusion. The Preacher could have told them both that. “There is nothing new under the sun”. Man’s desire for individually goes back to the Garden of Eden. It should have been good enough to have been the overlords of God’s creation. Adam and Eve were given control of all the earth and given the task of naming all of the animals. In other words, naming something gives it purpose. It should have been enough to have heard God’s voice. But there was another voice in the Garden. The ear should have been filled with the hearing of the words of God. And the serpent promised something more for the eyes than the vision of God. They could name everything, not just the animals. They would be like gods, knowing good and evil.
We all know what happened. Adam and Eve fell into sin, and the human race, as well as the created order was cursed, at least in the perspectives of men. They were cut off from the view above the sun. They could no longer walk with God in the garden and talk with Him. Instead, they were cast out of Paradise. The hearing of God’s voice was limited to what Hebrews calls an occasional occurrence by various means.
So far, a very depressing view has been seen of reality. Man, operating outside the horizon of the God who ascribes meaning to every fact in the universe, had found nothing but futility and meaningless. Life was just “dust in the wind”. The good news is that there is a personal God who works in the horizon above the sun who has a plan to redeem the human race from their folly. This is He who came down from heaven to earth and suffered the meaninglessness of death, even feeling the forsakenness from God in our behalf. Jesus is the one who will finally, and already has redeemed all of creation. God’s creation had not become meaningless, only our view of it. Now we await the full restoration which God has promised those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul tells us that the last enemy is death. Christ’s death was not futile because God raised Him from the dead on the third day. And because the believer is in Christ, he/she will not have suffered death in vain. There is a full restoration of all things to us, and this is already in progress.
As the song “For All the Saints” says “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine”, we still feel the effects of sin. We live in a universe in which the only meaning that fallen man makes of life is that it is dead meaningless. If we only see under the sun, we will continue to struggle vainly. We need to set our affections above to God who has provided the means to see above the sun again. We see when we die, we shall not dissolve into dust from which we came. We will shine in heaven with those who have gone on before us, reflecting the glory of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We live in a purposeful universe because God has said so. The very order of Creation itself declares God’s glory. But the human race has put blinders on and deliberately suppressed this truth. But when God’s truth sets us free, we are free indeed from a prison house which is bound under the sun. We don’t have to remain in Plato’s cave with our heads bound to the wall, only seeing shadows of God and the faint echo of His voice. God speaks to us in His Son Jesus Christ. And as Charles Wesley puts it “listening to His voice, new life the dead receive”. God speaks the word of redemption and restoration to us in Jesus Christ. Let us strengthen our feeble knees with this hope.
When we go out into the world as witnesses of Jesus Christ, we need to know where the world now is. But this does not mean we sink into the abyss of the unrelated meaninglessness with them. We need to remain attached to the One who calls Himself the true vine. But by knowing how the world thinks, you can help lead them with the help of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes from despair to hope. We can do this by showing them that all other pursuits of meaning end in despair. A wise person learns from the mistakes of others. God allowed the Preacher to fall into many pits of despair for the purpose that we might avoid them. If we find ourselves in one, and fallen man is always in one pit or another, we can be reminded that God has another purpose than destruction. Our Help has come, our Help is coming!”