Beauty in Vanity
By Pastor Dennis Yim
Old Testament Passage: Ecclesiastes 1:2-11
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”
3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.
9 History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. 10 Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. 11 We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.
Everything is Meaningless
There are moments in our lives when it seems completely meaningless; it’s all vanity. We wrestle with our existence. We struggle with meaning. We have conflicting feelings over what it means to truly live a worthy life. We all struggle with this existential crisis. We see life and death, beauty and ugliness, order and chaos, justice and injustice, purity and defilement in our world. But whatever it may be, we have fallen into the trap of “this is how it all must be; this is natural; this is how the world is.” But if that’s the case, then maybe everything really is meaningless. Maybe all that we do is in vanity. Maybe we just live for moments that transcends us from our current mess and elevates us into a realm where we can feel a bit more human or maybe we don’t feel anything at all. Maybe we’re living to fulfill a longing that seems impossible to do. When you’ve reflected upon these things, have you asked yourself: Why am I living like this? What’s the point? Is there meaning in any of this?
There are many who say Christians aren’t supposed to struggle with these kinds of existential questions because if they do then they’re questioning God’s goodness in their life or something of that sort – which is absolutely nonsense. However, the Teacher in Ecclesiastes shows us that we (Christians) are supposed to wrestle with these questions. Christianity is not a dimwitted faith. It’s a faith that allows us to question the meaninglessness in our lives. It allows us to struggle with our very existence. It allows us to look at our world and ask, “Are we making the same mistakes from the previous generation? Are we doing anything that’ll benefit the generations after us?” The Christian faith forces us to grasp any form of meaninglessness; it forces us to grapple and struggle with it. It forces us to bring our doubts into the light. It forces us to do these things, not because God is some forceful being who wants us to be miserable, rather He leads us to do this so that He may show us that in the midst of our meaninglessness there is meaning, in the midst of all the chaos there is still beauty – there’s grace in our doubts, there’s beauty in our mess.
Yet Everything is Meaningful
In Jesus Christ, every form of vanity has been met with life-giving truth – and this truth gives us meaning and beauty. This is the reason why we are to wrestle, grapple and to face our own vanities. It’s not so that we can fall into the pit of meaninglessness and remain there, rather, Jesus longs for us to see that our perceived meaningless lives are actually meaningful. In our union and communion with our Risen Lord, our lives are deeply meaningful. Why? Because in our union with Christ, the meaningful life of Christ is now ours! He allows us to come out of the end of our meaningless tunnels and to find and rejoice in His life. This is why we can wrestle with the same questions that the Teacher did in Ecclesiastes. Jesus doesn’t want us to ignore these questions so that we live a disillusioned life. No, Jesus wants us to address these questions and doubts with Him. He wants us to know that in Him our lives are meaningful and worth living because we are now part of His work of making all things right. Our lives are meaningful, even in the midst of meaninglessness. Not all is vanity, because Christ lives and you are in Him.
Prayer and Reflection
Take some time to reread Ecclesiastes 1:2-11. Reflect and meditate on the passage. Take some time to pray and ask the Lord to help you to wrestle with any form of doubts or struggles with vanity. Ask the Lord to help you to continue to find deep meaning and beauty in your union with Jesus Christ.
Almighty God, you care for me as if you thought of me alone, and you care for all as if all were one. I see the things of this earth pass away, and I see other things take their place, but you remain forever. Therefore, my God and Father, to you I entrust all I have received from you, for then, I can lose nothing. You, O Lord, have made me for yourself, and my heart can find no rest until it rests in you. Amen. Prayer for Our Hearts Rest in Christ by St. Augustine