The writer of Ecclesiastes wastes no time to depict a depressing scenario. He writes, “Vanities of Vanities! All is Vanity” (1:2b). Wow, this just rips all the optimism out of your soul, doesn’t it? Sure, and it should. That’s the point of Ecclesiastes to an extent. It’s a book designed to defeat you. Yes, that’s right, it is a book designed to defeat you.
Listen to what the Preacher says just a few verses later, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (1:14). This motif is repeated like a depressing drama over and over again until the very end of the book where the author finally proclaims, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14).
What’s his point? How are you to understand this? Simply put, Ecclesiastes is written to show that life lived from a humanistic perspective results in frustration and futility. If this world is all there is, then you will be disappointed. If you live in pursuit of the things of this world in an attempt to satisfy the longing of your soul, then you will die empty.
Ecclesiastes provides a stark and well-needed reminder that the things of this world were never intended to ultimately satisfy. While their pleasures provide momentary satisfaction, in the end, you will be left wanting more. Ecclesiastes reminds you that the things of this world are designed to point you to God and seek him. In the end, after pursuing all that there is to pursue, this wise preacher proclaims that you should live in reverential obedience to God since each person will give an account for that which they have “done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10).
While I can’t speak for you, I’ve found that in a culture that preaches cheap grace, that life is about me, and if it feels right it must be right, I need to be plugged into an ancient voice that grounds me in something, someone, greater than this world and greater than myself. I need to be reminded that life is not about me, that I’m held to a higher standard than this world, and that only God can truly satisfy. Life pursued apart from God is as futile as trying to catch the wind in a cup.