When I was younger, sometimes I would get bored in church. Sermons were not made for kids and this was before most churches had a separate service for them. Whenever this happened, because I was a good girl, I would usually just start reading in my Bible. That probably sounds more noble than it was, mostly because my Bible at the time had a bunch of interesting devotionals in it. These devotionals had many interesting stories that helped pass the time.
Sometimes though, I would just decide to read some book of the Bible that I had never read. This lead to my first reading of the book of Job, which I found confusing as a child. Then I read Song of Solomon, which I found even more confusing. I remember one day I decided to read Ecclesiastes. I might have given up after the first verse:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
Not exactly the happy Christian message I was expecting. It was downright depressing! From then until I was in college, I viewed Ecclesiastes as a depressing book that probably didn’t really belong in the Bible. I couldn’t understand how its message could fit with the rest of Scripture and everything I had learned in Sunday School.
In college, I took a class on the book of Ecclesiastes. I learned that Ecclesiastes isn’t really about how life is meaningless. In fact, the Hebrew word that’s translated as “meaningless” is actually really hard to define. Others have translated it as “vanity”, “temporary”, or even “mist”. The book isn’t claiming that life has no meaning. The book points out what we all have to acknowledge is true: life is fleeting. No matter what we do in this world, we all die and we can never right all the wrongs in the world.
That’s why Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It acknowledges that everything is not right with the world. The world is a mess and there’s very little that we can do to fix it, though we can and should try. It is the antidote to the happy-go-lucky brand of Christianity that many people (including myself) find fake and revolting.
God wanted that book in the Bible for a reason. It stuck in there despite Jewish leaders at various points in history trying to get rid of it. In Ecclesiastes, as in the book of Job, God demonstrates that he’s big enough to face the tough questions. He doesn’t run from them. He includes them in His own book!
Because of my love for the book, I’ve recently been working through Ecclesiastes again, this time going through a few verses at a time and using a meditation practice called Lectio Divina. I recently read through Ecclesiastes 1:13-15. The verses read:
3 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.
At first, this does seem pretty depressing. God has laid a heavy burden upon us. We have this desire to make things right in our world. We try to do good works. We try to change things. We try to set things on a good path. However, the more work we do, the more problems we find that still need to be solved. All the broken things in the world cannot be fixed…at least not by us.
When you pair Ecclesiastes with the Gospel, suddenly things come together. God has created us to work and to tend this earth. We’re supposed to take care of everything, but sin has made our job impossible. Sin didn’t just separate us from God. It also made the task he gave us impossible. However, God doesn’t leave us there.
He sends His son on our behalf to remove the heavy burden. He is the one who will set the world aright. He is the only one who can make straight all the things that are crooked. He gives us tasks and jobs to do on this world, but we always have to acknowledge that we are not the true fixers, He is.
I think this is an especially powerful message at this time of year. Most people are looking at the year ahead and planning how they want to improve and what they want to accomplish in 2018. Generally, I think that’s a good thing. God wants us to strive to do our best and to treat everything we do as if we were doing it for Him, because we are.
However, we can often fall into the trap of relying on our own strength and becoming our own savior. We start relying on diet plans and monthly planners and goal keeping worksheets to help us accomplish what we’ve set out to do. We think that we can save the world through our own discipline, ingenuity, and hard work.
But we can’t. We need the book of Ecclesiastes to remind us that ultimately, our work is little more than mist. It has impact today, but may be completely forgotten tomorrow. The impact we make is important, but the only person who will truly set things right is Jesus. While we should always seek to do the good things set before us, we should also never forget our position in the grand scheme of things.
We have to humbly accept that no matter what we do, it’s only Jesus that can save us. It’s only Jesus that can solve the world’s problems. It’s only Jesus that will make all things new and right and perfect and beautiful again.
Honestly, that’s good news. It really takes the pressure off of us. We know how flawed we are, even when we’re at our best. The news that we can’t fix it, frees us to do what we can do without putting extra pressure on ourselves to accomplish what we can’t. May you embrace that truth today as you look at what you’re trying to accomplish this year. Don’t put a heavier burden on yourself than you’re meant to. God has created you with a specific purpose, unique talents, and special tasks, but ultimately He’s the only one who can truly save the world.
Ashleigh is a writer, blogger, wife, and dog mom who lives in the Portland, Oregon area with her husband, Zach, and dog, Ramsey. She enjoys reading, organizing, meal planning, cooking, and being beat by her husband at board games. On her blog, ashleighrich.com she strives to help young adults figure out how to live the Christian life authentically, especially when it comes to relationships.