“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’” (Eccl. 1:1-2). Or, to paraphrase, “all is pointless, all is empty.” Ecclesiastes so reduces our many earthly activities to “chasing after wind” that it begs for an answer to the important question: What, then, gives life and living meaning and purpose?
More to Life
Enjoy God’s earthly blessings—enjoy your job, enjoy your roast beef, enjoy your spouse, et al (and not necessarily in that order). Great advice, but Ecclesiastes lacks a comprehensive explanation of the reason for our existence and various activities. As one of 66 books of the Bible, it can only be understood properly in light of the entire message of Scripture. Yet, when viewed in this greater biblical context the goals of life become meaningful as part of the greater purpose of God.
We often fail to appreciate this important truth in our youth when so many things lie before us, like learning to walk or ride a bike; graduating from kindergarten, high school, and college; getting a job, career, spouse, kids, and a good retirement. We are easily occupied by a successive series of objectives. But when we are older, when we’ve been there, done that, and get a gold watch for 40 years of hard work, we can better appreciate Solomon’s point. It’s why he can say “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart” (Eccl. 7:2). Death and eternity put our temporal pursuits into proper perspective.
The Big Picture
As Christians, our activities need not be pointless, but part of a life of meaning, contentment, and joy. We need not wait until we have been there and done that to know why we go there and do that. Yet, we sometimes forget how our many goals fit into a comprehensive and greater purpose. Our pursuits can lie scattered like pieces of an unfinished jigsaw puzzle on a table top, with little understanding of how they fit together to form a beautiful and meaningful picture.
What, then, constitutes the ultimate purpose that gives our pursuits eternal significance and value? The answer lies with God’s ultimate purpose to display His glory, to shine forth the majestic beauty of His attributes.
Glory in Creation
God displays His glory in creation and providence—His fingerprints appear on everything. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens” (Ps. 8:1). “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Ps. 108:5). In other words, let the beauty of your holiness, love, goodness, wisdom, power, etc., radiate throughout your universe for all to see. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1a). The testimony shines so clearly that all people “are without excuse” for not worshipping God and giving Him thanks (Rom. 1:18-20). Every raindrop and bite of food displays His goodness (Acts 14:17).
Glory in Christ and Redemption
The ultimate display of God’s glory resides in the person and saving work of Jesus Christ. God’s excellent character shines forth in the plan and accomplishment of the salvation of unworthy sinners. Indeed, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” and “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” for “the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:4,5,6). We have been “sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance…to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13-14). In the saving work of Christ, most particularly in His giving Himself to suffer infinite wrath to save His enemies, the beauty of God’s attributes shines brightly, including His righteousness, holiness, love, goodness, wisdom, and power.
In fact, to see the excellence of Christ is to see the excellence of the Father: “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). Or, as Jesus responded to Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
God’s Purpose—Our Purpose
What, then, comprises the one purpose that unites and gives meaning to every aspect of life? As created and redeemed by God, our purpose comes from the purpose of the One who created and redeemed us—to display and communicate His infinite excellence. “Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you….every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isa. 43:5, 7). For “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). The testimony of our life and words should proclaim and emulate the character of Christ: “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” (Ps. 96:7b-8a). “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples” (Ps. 96:3). The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
Given that our ultimate purpose consists of God’s ultimate purpose to display His glory, and that His glory radiates most clearly in the person and redeeming work of Christ on the cross, may the beauty of Christ’s character shine in all we say and do. By this the vain and mundane activities of life become part of God’s marvelous purpose in all things. We have been redeemed from meaningless activity to a purpose infinitely greater than ourselves, with eternal consequences. Therefore, “whether… you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).