John D. Rockefeller, one of the wealthiest people who ever lived, was once asked,
“How much money is enough money?“
“Just a little bit more.“
Few of us will ever have the power or the means to acquire everything we want. Let’s be honest, we’re average. But inside all of us is the lingering suspicion, “if I could just have _______ then I would be happy.”
What if we got “a little bit more”? What if we had everything we ever wanted? Would we be happy? The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes answers that question.
In the narrative world of Ecclesiastes the “teacher” (or the “preacher”) embarks on a quest to find meaning and satisfaction. With power, authority, and wealth at his fingertips, he leaves no stone unturned. No barrier stands in the way of his journey.
The teacher investigates wealth, pleasure, justice, possessions, and youthfulness. He plumbs the depths of the common sources of satisfaction in his day, but in so doing plumbs the depths of the common sources of satisfaction in our day.
The world wagers that true satisfaction can be found somewhere among the vitality of youthfulness, the joy of possessions, the pursuit of justice, or the thrill of pleasure. It is an impressive list. The teacher calls the bluff.
The Meaning that Death Destroys
Ecclesiastes forces us to look at our futile attempts to find satisfaction. It pokes holes in our logic, unmasks our false pretenses, and disrupts our tranquility. With brutal honesty Ecclesiastes looks at life under the sun and concludes “all is vanity.”
Amidst humanity’s attempt to find meaning where meaning cannot be found, the preacher declares,
 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.  All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. – Ecclesiastes 3:19-20
Death is the great equalizer. All our striving for significance will inevitably be swallowed up by death. Is this nihilism? No. It’s realism.
Ernest Becker says that our fear of death is the the psychological reality that explains most of our behavior. Becker was a professor of cultural anthropology, and in his Pulitzer Prize winning book the Denial of Death he observed that wether we want to admit it or not, all of us live with fear. Fear about the world and fear about death.
He explains that if we truly understood what it meant to be human, if we reckoned with our unavoidable death and our inept power before an immense world that daily threatens us, we would be terrified.
He says, “And what is this fear, but a fear of the reality of creation in relation to our powers and possibilities” (pg. 5).
All of us try to suppress the fear that is part of our everyday life. We have no certainty of security. We learn “to avoid the death that rumbles behind and underneath every carefree activity, that looks over [our] shoulder as [we] play…” (pg. 53).
The Meaning that Death Cannot Destroy
To a certain extent the preacher of Ecclesiastes agrees with this dark assessment of life. Life under the sun means that sinful humanity can only watch as its attempts to find satisfaction go up in smoke. Ecclesiastes forces us to smell the smoke, but unlike so many doomsday thinkers Ecclesiastes doesn’t leave us there.
After deconstructing our futile attempts to find satisfaction, the preacher shows us how to find true meaning in life—fear God.
Life under the sun seems meaningless, but there is a God above the sun who gives meaning to it all. In one way or another, we’ve all watched our self-salvation projects go up in smoke. The realism of Ecclesiastes is sobering, but the solution of Ecclesiastes is transforming.
As a church we’re excited to let the book of Ecclesiastes point us to the true source of satisfaction—the living God. Starting Sunday, September 12th 2021, please join us in this upcoming sermon series Ecclesiastes: When All You’ve Ever Wanted is Not Enough.
Derek Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes (The Bible Speaks Today Series) – LINK
David Gibson, Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End – LINK
Craig Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament) – LINK
Michael V. Fox, Frame-Narrative and Composition in the Book of Qohelet – LINK
The BibleProject (Video 1) – Ecclesiastes Overview – LINK
The BibleProject (Video 2) – The Book of Ecclesiastes – LINK
NOTE: This blog post was originally written for Christ Community Church in Kansas City. It has undergone minor edits. Special thanks to Christ Community for taking the time to invest in me as a young pastor and for letting me use this blog post here.