“The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless.”
This was the famed 20th Century Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s pessimistic outlook on life, and it is shared by many individuals today. Tolstoy felt life was meaningless because he rejected faith in God. But even Christians can sympathize with the feeling. Have you ever felt life was meaningless?
One of the wisest and wealthiest men to ever live, Solomon, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. He was king over Israel after his father, David. During Solomon’s life, he turned away from God. 1 Kings 11 says, “his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel.”
During the end of his life, when he wrote Ecclesiastes, he declared, “all was vanity and a striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Eccl. 2:11). The word vanity is simply an older term for meaningless. The term “under the sun” is used around 30 times throughout the book, and it was Solomon’s way of describing what life is like without God—a life devoid of meaning.
In a world seemingly lacking in purpose, how can the one who searches for purpose find it? At the end of his life, Solomon came to realize where meaning comes from.
A Time for Everything
First, purpose is found in realizing that all things are suitable in their own time. In the third chapter of the book, the preacher (the term Solomon uses to refer to himself) announces that, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…a time to weep, and a time to laugh,” and so on (Eccl. 3:1-4).
It is important to realize that many things that are perceived as bad are not; they are appropriate at specific times.
Take the emotion of sadness, for instance. It is not a bad thing to feel sad. Many people assume sadness and mourning are negative emotions that should be avoided at any cost. Sorrow is among the toughest of emotions to handle, because it tends to weigh on the soul more than most other emotions.
But the truth is, God gave all of us emotions for specific reasons. There are appropriate times to feel all of the emotions. It is good to rejoice with friends who are celebrating, and to mourn with those who have lost loved ones. It would be inappropriate for one to be happy during a time of immense grief, or to be saddened by another’s success.Purpose is found in the wisdom and discernment it takes to realize that all things are appropriate in their own time. Click To Tweet
Rejoice in the Little Things
Next, purpose can be found in taking joy in the little things. Solomon says, “also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (Eccl. 3:13). Here, the preacher is pleading with us to celebrate in our work, because that is what God created man to do: to work and to take joy in it. Regarding Adam and Eve, Genesis 2:15 says that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The goodness that we experience during our labor is nothing less than a gift God has given to us for our enjoyment.
Purpose is found by allowing yourself to find fulfillment in your work, even though it can be tedious at times.
Live Your Life in the Moment
Finally, the Preacher tells us that purpose is found by living in the moment. In the last two chapters of the book, Solomon explains how the stresses of life tend to compound the longer you are alive. Therefore, while you are young, it is important to enjoy life’s pleasures while remembering that God is always present and taking notice of your actions. Solomon encourages us to “Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgement” (Eccl. 11:9).
It is easy to see the meaninglessness of life when looking at life zoomed out. But when Solomon focuses on the present time, there he finds meaning. He tells all of us to “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Eccl. 12:1). Therefore, take these words to heart. Do not think about the past or worry about the future; instead, enjoy right now while remembering your Creator. Click To Tweet
Worth the Effort
Leo Tolstoy’s writings reflected his depressing outlook on life because of his existentialist beliefs. He says “the learned and wise” do not believe in God, and therefore they conclude that life is meaninglessness. On the other hand, “the enormous masses men, the whole of mankind” get their meaning from their faith in God. Tolstoy’s existentialist worldview blinded him from finding purpose.
Solomon’s final words at the end of the book is a call to action: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13).
Mankind’s ultimate purpose is to fear the Lord and honor him with our actions. When you feel it’s hard to find purpose, read the words of Solomon. You will be comforted in reading the words of a relatable man who reflects on his own feelings.
Finding purpose in life takes work; but God makes it worth the effort.