Ecclesiastes: A Joyful Book
It’s a running joke that Ecclesiastes is one of the most depressing books in the Bible.
That’s not surprising when you read “all is vanity” throughout the chapters of the relatively short book. You read, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” this is vanity, and that is vanity. ALL is vanity! It’s as though that’s all you see saturating the pages. If that were true — if that was all there was — I’d be depressed, too.
Indeed, I once was.
In a short season of less-than-preferrable circumstances, I fell quickly into a fleshly mindset and saw little to no purpose in living. I deduced that the grievances and annoyances I endured were simply futile. “What is the point?” I asked myself. I had a mentality that radiated “all is vanity,” and I allowed it to entertain irreversible decisions. Even if just for a moment, I genuinely believed there was no point in anything. All was vanity, and that felt logical.
But by the grace of God, it was through reading Scripture (which I cannot remember now the book, chapter, or verse it was) that pulled me out of this state of mind. An immensely dark season became beamingly bright. What caused the change? It was shifting from an earthly perspective to a heavenly one — a crucial point I am going to come back to.
The idea that “all is vanity” should only be depressing to the unbeliever. At the very least, a believer may be included if he or she is focused on earthly things, as I was. But a believer who has their gaze fixed on heavenly things finds joy in such a statement, because it bleeds joyous truth. All is vanity, but only if it lacks God.
When reflecting on Ecclesiastes, skipping over the final chapter is simply impermissible. There are hints to this throughout the book, but chapter 12 proclaims boldly: God is the only source of meaning, beauty, purpose, and all things good. The believer can read a book deeming everything as vanity and not be dismayed because the believer knows how inconsequential everything truly is detached from its Creator. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Our whole duty is to be focused on Him. If you detach yourself from your “whole duty,” it’s no wonder emptiness quickly follows.
You will have no hope if you turn away from the Source of hope. To the unbeliever (or the believer focused on the flesh), such a book as Ecclesiastes may read as so:
All is vanity, therefore there is no point to anything. No point to anything means there is no point to life at all. Why am I even here?
To the believer focused on heavenly things, it ought to read like this:
Without God, all is vanity; there is no hope. But because His grace and mercy saturate every fiber of essence, life does have meaning. Fellowship is made sweet because of Him. Trials are worth enduring because of Him. Little things have beauty because of Him. Life is truly beautiful because of HIM. I have hope in all things, because of Him.
There is only a subtle difference, as both the believer and the unbeliever endure the same things in this earthly life (“nothing new under the sun,” remember?). However, the point of variation is that the believer has hope, while the unbeliever does not. It is remarkable how such a small distinguishing factor makes the difference between craving life and craving death.
As we sadly see often in society, the one without hope sees death as a solution to vanity. If not death, then certainly some form of addiction that temporarily distracts from these vanities. I don’t know about you, but I completely understand that desire — from a secular point of view, that is. But to the one with hope, we crave life because a new day means we get another chance to serve, worship, learn about, and glorify God. We know God is not lackadaisical, therefore no day is without purpose. His hope saturates what we do, say, think, and feel because it gives all aspects of life value and meaning when it is tied directly to Him.
Why else do you believe Scripture makes it so clear that we must focus on heavenly things? God knows how easily we fall into despair when we fix our eyes on things of despair. So, instead, we focus on heavenly things and become filled with heavenly hope. This is not putting on rose-tinted glasses, because that would imply a false reality. Rather, when we focus on heavenly things, we are getting new eyes. Eyes that see the beauty in the chaos and the divine purpose in the earthly vanity. These new eyes are for the believer — the one with abundant hope.
Ecclesiastes is a joyful book. It is a book, after discussing all that is vanity, rooted in the emphasis of the only thing that matters. To put it bluntly, how you read Ecclesiastes is a sure way to discern what eyes you are using to observe life and whether you are focused on the flesh or focused on things above.
I once allowed myself to see life as vanity without acknowledging the hope found in Christ. I was miserable. But now, I understand and proclaim the hope of Christ, and, truly, I want nothing but Him. All is vanity without my God, but what profound beauty that emits, because nothing is going to separate me from Him (Romans 8:38-39).
I have always loved the hymn, “Give Me Jesus,” but it took me some time to grasp its depth. The chorus goes:
“Give me Jesus, give me Jesus.
You may have all this world, give me Jesus.”
I understand now this longing the hymnist portrays...
Take it all. Take everything! Take riches, shelter, success, fame, health, etc. You can have everything. But give me Jesus.
I don’t just want Him… I need Him. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Simply put, there is none.
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.