“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).
The book of Ecclesiastes focuses on one central theme: the vanity of life. By “vanity,” the author is not referring to arrogance about one’s looks; rather, he is demonstrating the fleeting nature of life, in which the pursuit of anything results in nothingness. Some translations of the Bible supply the word “vapor” instead of vanity. Regardless of the word choice, the point remains the same. The things we chase after in this world will one day disappear, and when we die, our work will fade with us.
The author of Ecclesiastes (many scholars believe him to be Solomon) shares examples from his own life of how he sought satisfaction in everything the world had to offer. He searched for happiness in wisdom, in pleasure, in work, in other people—anything that promised happiness he pursued. But one thing after another proved to be empty. He realized in despair that all of his pursuits soon evaporated, blowing away like a mist on the wind. Nothing he did would last forever. Most of his works would die with him, and those that did outlive him would be passed on to others who would not care for them as he did. What, then, was the meaning of life? What could possibly give him the fulfillment he so longed for?
And eventually, he found the answer he was looking for. Life is short, he realized, and so many people squander their few years on earth by chasing vainly after things that will not last. Life, however, is a gift from God. When we stop and just enjoy the life God has given us, taking pleasure in the work He has provided for us, we begin to fulfill the purpose for which He created us. Our primary reason for existence is to bring glory to God. One way we can do that is by enjoying what He has given us. This does not mean, of course, that we make the pursuit of pleasure our goal. That is just another kind of vanity. But when we rejoice in the work set before us and praise God with it, God is honored. Moreover, He is glorified. Life is indeed short, but when we worship our Creator with everything we have, our lives will never be wasted.