1: “One of the most poignant expressions of the way human work can feel so profoundly meaningless comes from a very ancient document, the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes,” Timothy Keller writes in Every Good Endeavor.
“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind,” says the Philosopher in Ecclesiastes 2:17
The book starts with three “life projects,” each an effort to discover a meaningful life.
After failing to discover purpose in a life of learning and wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12–18; 2:12–16) and the pursuit of pleasure (2:1–11), the Philosopher attempts to chase away his sense of meaninglessness through hard work (2:17–26).
“He now tries to live for the accomplishment of concrete goals and the accrual of wealth and influence,” Tim writes.
But here, too, he finds only misery: “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun” (2:18-20).
2: Tim suggests the term “under the sun” is the key to understanding the Philosopher’s mindset: “In general, it refers to life in this world considered in and of itself, apart from any greater or eternal reality,” he writes.
This approach is inherently flawed, Tim believes.
“If we base our lives on work and achievement, on love and pleasure, or on knowledge and learning, our existence becomes anxious and fragile—because circumstances in life are always threatening the very foundation of our lives, and death inevitably strips us of everything we hold dear.”
He contrasts this approach with relying upon “a gracious Creator God . . . as a precondition for an unshakeable, purposeful life,” Tim writes.
3: Within the Philosopher’s darkness, however, some light shines through: “There is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot,” (3:22) he says.
How do we find this meaning? “to . . . find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God” (3:13).
Christians believe that “the New Testament reveals that the ultimate source of the tranquility we seek is Jesus Christ,” Tim writes, “who—because he has toiled for us on the cross—can offer us the true rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28–30).”
Reflection: The Philosopher pushes us to ask some difficult questions that we might otherwise avoid: “Is there any meaning to my life?” “What am I really doing it all for?” “Why is there so much wrong with the world?” “How will I cope with it?”
Action: Journal my answers to the questions above.