“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” — Ecclesiastes 1:2–3
There is a common refrain throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. The book begins and ends with the author declaring that “everything is meaningless.” But can that really be true? Is King Solomon saying that life is a meaningless accident? Can it be that he believes that there is no point to our limited time on this planet?
There is another phrase that repeats itself throughout Solomon’s writings. That term is “under the sun.” When Solomon talks about life under the sun, he is referring to the material, physical aspect of life. And in that respect, yes – everything is meaningless! Everything physical is temporary and empty. “Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow” (Psalm 144:4).
But that’s life under the sun. There is also life beyond the sun, and that is something else altogether different. Life beyond the sun describes the spiritual part of life. The point that Solomon is trying to drive home is that ultimately, that’s the only part of life that really matters. Only the spirit lasts forever.
The Walton family is one of the wealthiest families in the world today. Sam Walton, the family’s patriarch, was the founder of Wal-Mart. Sam was more successful than anyone could have ever imagined, and so his final words before he left this world are very instructive. When Sam looked back on a lifetime of unprecedented material success, he had just three words to say. His last words were: “I blew it!”
By the world’s standards, Sam Walton had been one of the most successful individuals in the world. But by his own admission, he had failed. Like King Solomon, he wondered, “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” Sam had worked hard and made billions. But what good does that money do for him now?
The legacy of Sam Walton is that material success does not make a life worth living. If your goal is material, you are missing the whole point of life!
So what is the goal of life? Solomon sums it all up for us: “ . . . here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The only achievements that last forever are spiritual. We are here to become better people and to help make the world a better place. The goal of life has nothing to do with what we have, and everything to do with who we are.
Life under the sun becomes meaningful only when we go beyond it.