It is vanity to put our hopes in such ephemeral and finite things. Yet we do. Indeed such behavior is as common, if not more intense, in people of our own times as it was in the time that Qoheleth was writing these words.
“He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
“Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.” These very recognizable words come at the beginning of the Book of Ecclesiastes and our verse for today is to be understood in the light of these words. The tone of the short Book of Ecclesiastes is one of unrelenting skepticism. The questions and issues the Qoheleth, the author, raises are pointed at those who make absolute values out of earthly things like possessions, fame, material success, or sensual pleasures of any kind. He has seen that these things are as nothing in the face of eternity.
It is vanity to put our hopes in such ephemeral and finite things. Yet we do. Indeed such behavior is as common, if not more intense, in people of our own times as it was in the time that Qoheleth was writing these words. He is giving us a very honest and very straightforward assessment of the human condition in this short book.
As today’s verse indicates, God has put eternity in us, yet, because we are finite, we cannot fathom the mysteries of what He has done from the beginning to the end. God has made us for eternity, but because our earthly lives last only a brief moment, in comparison to eternity, the fullness of God’s mystery is hidden from us. It is beyond us in our present condition. We can only even begin to understand through God’s generous gifts of grace. It is a great irony that, as finite beings, we are so often tempted by pride to presume that we are able, by our own authority, to give absolute value to finite, earthly things.
There is a paradox here. Though God often seems distant and uncommunicative to us, he has placed eternity within us. Indeed, as he promised us in Jesus, he dwells within us in his Holy Spirit, in the temple of our souls. This knowledge that comes from faith softens and tempers our own skepticism. It is humility that empowers us to accept the fact that we are finite, yet, that God has “set eternity in our hearts.” Though we cannot understand the fullness of God’s wisdom for us, we can, in humility, rejoice in whatever gifts of wisdom, or faith, or courage, or mercy, or forgiveness that we receive from him. It is a matter of sinful presumptuousness on our part to give absolute value to earthly things. Indeed, it is folly to think that we could even begin to grow in wisdom about the world, ourselves, or God, without God’s generous grace. Is this not the very “vanity of vanities” that Qoheleth refers to in the Book of Ecclesiastes?
Lord, soften our skepticism with your generous gifts of humility and faith so that we can realize, like Qoheleth, that there is nothing better for us to do than to “be joyful and to do good as long as we live.” (verse 12) Though we are often weary, we wish to be able “to eat, to drink and to take pleasure in our toils,” (verse 13) knowing that all of these things are given to us in your unfathomable wisdom. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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