Friday, October 19, 2012

Meaningless and Hopeless

"Meaningless! Meaningless!"
      says the teacher.
"Utterly meaningless!
     Everything is meaningless."
Ecclesiastes 1:2

So go the opening lines of Ecclesiastes; and, upon honest reflection, so appears the world.  Our friends on the street live to feed their passions, whatever they may be at any given moment.  Many of them are simply repeating the pattern established by their parents, adapting the cycle of sin, poverty, and brokenness to their own age and environment.  The chaos and destruction that appears in the wake of their choices does indeed seem meaningless.

But the writer of Ecclesiastes was not merely referring to the obvious ways that sin perverts the goodness of God's creation and distorts the semblance of its moral order, nor did he only illustrate his point with those whose lot is endless toil with no reward.  His examination cuts deep and his diagnosis poetically describes the impression given by a horizontal survey of this world.  Rich or poor, oppressed or free, educated or ignorant, yellow, red, black, or white our best efforts are meaningless in our sight...

Even so, the stark reality of the truths of Ecclesiastes are brought into sharper focus in the darker corners of this sin stained world; the absurdity of  selling and buying a person's body for the fleeting pleasure of sexual gratification, an unquenchable fire that consumes all who attempt to tame it; the pointlessness of huffing glue to cover the pain of past abuse only to be aroused from a stupor with a pounding headache and a profound sense of shame; the closed wombs of countless women who, along with their husbands, are mentally, emotionally, and financially prepared to care for children, while the fertility of so many others bring children into this world without fathers, homes, or love.  Everything is meaningless.

 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole [duty] of man.
For God will bring every deed into
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

So ends the wisdom offered by the writer of Ecclesiastes; and, upon honest reflection on the testimony of Scripture, so is the world.  But if this is the end of the story, we have simply been moved from meaninglessness to hopelessness.  The writer of Ecclesiastes has contemplated all of creation from a worldly perspective and has found it to be utter vanity.  He moves from the horizontal to the vertical in order to identify our purpose, banishing the pretense of triviality.  We were created to honor and glorify God by knowing Him and obeying His commands.  But the honest reader, while gaining a since of purpose, will not be moved one inch from the despair he felt when life appeared meaningless, "for God will bring every deed into judgement..." (emphasis mine).  Now everything is hopeless.

...but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God...
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us the wisdom of God - 
that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.
1 Corinthians 1:23, 24, 30

So writes Paul; and, upon honest reflection on the testimony of the Spirit through the Scriptures, so is Christ.  When we honestly look at the world around us and consider the brevity and seeming incongruity of our lives, we are tempted to stumble under the weight of a horizontal vista (see also Psalm 73).  When we recognize that Scripture teaches that we were made for an end, that our lives are not meaningless but, instead, are imbued with purpose, we are tempted to stumble under the burden of that unreachable goal, that is, to honor and glorify God with all that we are.  It is in the revelation of Christ alone that we find that our purpose brings hope, because it (i.e., our purpose) was accomplished in Him.  Jesus Christ fulfilled the "whole duty of man," fearing God and keeping His commands.  By this He became our righteousness and holiness.  Then, He was judged for "our every hidden thing," all of which was evil. By this He became our redemption.  In Christ there is purpose (to love, serve, and enjoy our God and Savior) and hope (eternal life with the Triune God).

Oh, the depth of the riches of the
wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgements,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
"Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?"
"Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?"
For from him and through him and to
him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Romans 11:33-36

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