Part 2: Are We There Yet?

By September 18, 2013 Meaningless No Comments

meaninglessness-header

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. In this week of “Meaningless?” we begin studying the first 11 verses of the book of Ecclesiastes where the writer exclaims “Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” After considering the lack of meaning in doing things just to be finished, Pastor David Boone of New Covenant Fellowship shows that meaning comes from enjoying “doing” rather than being done.

 

Part 2 are we there yet?

Are we there yet?  If you have kids, you have probably heard that uttered from the backseat. Or if you ever were a kid, then you have probably said that.  Or maybe it was stated more like, how much longer until we get there?

There is something inside us that wants to get there.  We want to arrive.  We like progress, achievement, arrival.  We want the journey to be over so that we can say, “I have arrived. I’m there.”

But in the journey of life, when do we truly arrive?  When do we get there?  When is the journey ever truly over?  That is the question that we will explore this morning in the words of the Teacher, in the book of Ecclesiastes.

So let’s open our Bibles to Ecclesiastes 1.

Just to refresh your memory, last week we discussed the overall context of Ecclesiastes and explored the who, what, when, where and why questions.  We noted that the historical and traditional view of authorship attributes the writing to King Solomon, a view that I personally hold to, especially when taking verses 1 and 12 as they stand, and therefore was written in Jerusalem around 970 to 930 BC to a very broad audience that extends beyond Israel.  It falls into the category of wisdom literature and it is a philosophical discussion exploring the meaning of life.  We will cover verses 1 – 11 this morning.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

1The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”

3What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?

4Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.

5The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.

6The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

7All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.  To the place the streams come from, there they return again.

8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say.  The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”?  It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

 

1The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

So in verse one, the author identifies himself.  Again, my view is that the Teacher is Solomon, but in order to honor the fact that many modern scholars reject Solomonic authorship, I will try to refer to him simply as the Teacher, though I cannot guarantee that I won’t slip up and say Solomon from time to time.

And then in verse two, he gives a startling summary, a shocking conclusion. 2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”

Another translation may read “vanity of vanities” or “futility of futilities”.  This phrase is kind of like “king of kings” and “lord of lords” it takes the word and expresses it in the superlative.  It says in children’s terms, the mostest meaninglessest.

The Hebrew word used here is hebel.  It is used a number of times in Ecclesiastes and is one of the recurring themes.  There is a bit of a translation issue with this word, which is why different bible versions translate it differently.  It can mean breath, vapor, delusion, emptiness, futility, vanity, worthless, or meaningless.  And it becomes increasingly difficult to translate it throughout the book because the author seems to use it in different ways in different verses.

Hebel!  Everything is hebel!  Hebel of hebels!  Everything is meaningless.

In the rest of the book, the Teacher will explore various components of this life of hebel, this meaningless life – everything from work, to wisdom, to pleasure, to riches, to advancement, to folly, to investments, the whole spectrum of life under the sun.

Now in verse 3, the Teacher takes us up up and away to get a big broad birds eye view at life under the sun in consideration of the seemingly meaningless maddening monotony of the human experience and the cycle of life under the sun.

He begins by asking the question in verse 3: 3What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?

He looks at life and let’s face it; much of one’s life is spent working.  Forty hours a week or more, we spend working.  Work is a huge part of the human existence.

The teacher in Ecclesiastes looks at work, looks at toil and asks, what do people gain from their work?  Is their work ever done?  Do they ever arrive?  What is their reward in the end for their labor?

He already kind of answered the question in verse two: hebel/vanity.  All is vanity.  Vanity of vanities.  Essentially, I believe that he is saying that a man’s work is done in vain because it is never really done.  One can never really say, “I made it; I’m done, I have arrived.”  Man’s toil, his labor under the sun is part of a never ending cycle of maddening monotony.

He furthers his point in verse four 4Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.

The cycle of life continues and the cycle of work continues with them.  There were men building roads in Rome 2000 years ago which went down in history as being a phenomenal feat.  In Rome, you could get places.  But the men responsible for building those roads…do you know their names?  When they were done building that road system in Rome, were they truly at a point when they could say, “It is finished.  No roads will ever be built again because we just finished it.”  Had humanity arrived at a state of completion?  Or do we still have people building roads today?  What did the road system look like in Dallas or Houston 2000 years ago?  What about 200 years ago?  Are they different today?  Of course, because it wasn’t complete 2000 years ago, it wasn’t done 200 years ago.  They hadn’t arrived then and we haven’t arrived today.

Have you driven through Salado and Belton lately?  As long as there are signs that read “work zone traffic fines double” there is road work to be done.  Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever and as long as humans are doing life, there will be workers working.  Road building is only one example of this.

And what do those workers gain for all their toil?  The men who built the portion of I 35 going through Salado and Belton.  How would they feel knowing that their roads are being torn up and replaced today?  Hebel!  Vanity!  My work was done in vain.  I thought we were done.  I thought that when we poured and smoothed that last stretch of pavement, we had arrived.  But clearly we hadn’t.  As much as I would have liked for my work to be the completed version that goes down in history it’s not.  What did they gain from all their toilsome labor under the sun?  Generations come and generations go and another generation comes along and the cycle continues – the earth remains forever and there is always more work to be done.  We haven’t arrived; we aren’t there yet.

The teacher continues by observing nature and its continual cycle of maddening monotony.

Look at nature. 5The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.

You watch a beautiful sunset.  Is the sun done?  No…it’s gonna rise tomorrow in the east and pass through the sky and set in the west again, just like it did today, yesterday, and the day before.  It just keeps on doing the same thing everyday.  It’s a never ending cycle.  It doesn’t stop.  Guess what?  It’s going to keep doing the same thing tomorrow and the next day and the next day, just like it did yesterday, last week, two years ago, two thousand years ago.  The sun can ask all day long, “Are we there yet?” and the answer is “nope”.  The sun is on a never ending journey round and round the earth.  And don’t you even try to tell me that the earth goes around the sun because that would challenge a longheld view and it’s heresy because we can’t change our views.

6The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

The wind is just like the sun.  It keeps going round and round.  It’s never done.  It will never arrive.  It’s on a never ending journey.  It’s never there yet.

Verse 7

7All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.  To the place the streams come from, there they return again.

I don’t know how much the Teacher knew about the scientific cycle of evaporation and precipitation, but his observation is that the sea never fills up.  Streams can flow into the sea but they just keep going.  The water can never say, “I made it.  I’m done.  I have arrived.”  It keeps on flowing.  We grasp the scientific side of things and for us it makes the case even stronger that there is a never ending cycle of water evaporating and rain falling down.  And it just keeps on cycling through.  It’s never done.

Not only does nature teach us the maddening monotonous cycle of life under the sun, just look at the functions of our own body.

8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say.  The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

Your eyes are never done seeing.  You keep seeing more stuff and you’re never there.  Your ears keep hearing more stuff.  You drink liquids.  You pee.  After you pee are you done?  Nope.  You’re going to drink more and then you’re going to pee more.  You eat.  And then what?

9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”?  It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

If we take verses 9 and 10 out of context, we might be tempted to say, “See, right there.  Now we know we can’t trust the Bible.  What about the all of the advancements since Ecclesiastes was written?  When the light bulb was invented, that was something new under the sun.  What about automobiles?  Have they always been around?  And the wright brothers?  Are you going to tell me that the author of Ecclesiastes flew on a jet plane while texting on his iPhone.  There is plenty new under the sun.  There are many things of which one can say ‘Look! This is something new.’”

That is IF we take these verses out of context.  But that’s not what the author is saying.  In the proper context, we see that the author is saying that the cycle of life that he has been speaking about has been and will be.  The sun has been rising and setting forever.  The wind has been going round and round on its course forever.  Streams have been flowing into the sea forever.  People have been toiling, laboring, seeing, and hearing ever since humans have walked the earth.  None of this is new.  Generations come and generations go but no generation has ever arrived.  We just keep on doing the same stuff.  They all keep asking, “are we there yet?” but nobody ever gets there.

11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

If you’re looking to have your name go down in history as the one who arrived…not gonna happen.  You may go down in history as a wright brother but someone in another generation will come after you and voila 747 or stealth bomber.  You may go down in history as one of the guys who built the stretch of highway going through Salado, but another generation will come after you and erect signs that say “work zone.”

You may go down in history as a king and you make improvements in the community other kings will come after you and make more improvements.  You may go down in history as a Vanilla Ice (did I say that outloud), but an Eminem will come after you.  History books may record a portion of your achievements, but history books are only as good as the people who write them.  Will they truly ever capture all that one does in his toilsome labor under the sun?  Or will a great portion of that labor go unknown, unappreciated, not remembered by those who follow them?  How much of that labor was done in vain?  Will you ever really arrive?

No.  Generations will come after you and they will do the work that their milieu necessitates.  They will do the toilsome labor required by their culture in their day just as you do and the neverending cycle of maddening monotony of the human experience will continue and just as you never get there, just as we never arrive, neither will they.

All things are wearisome, a chasing after the wind.  You and I will never get there.  And we know this to be true in our own experience.

WORK CYCLE

My first summer of work, I worked at Blockbuster Video where I would rent movies to people and reshelve the movies that people returned.  I remember seeing the return bin and a huge pile of movies that I would check in, categorize, alphabetize and then move as quickly as possible to reshelve.  I saw an empty return bin as a state of having arrived.  I saw an empty checkout line as a state of arrival.  Every time I got that bin empty you know what happened?  People walked up and returned more movies.  And that was frustrating.  I was like vanity of vanities.  My reshelving is done in vain.  Now there’s more movies to return and just as I thought I had arrived, I realized, nope.  The journey is not over.  Every night I worked, I kept asking, when will we get there?  When will my toilsome labor be complete?  At closing time.  Then the line of people renting movies is gone.  I vacuumed the floor, mopped the tile, counted the money, reshelved every last movie, dusted.  Done.  I’m there!  It’s over.  I have arrived.  So when I go to work the next day, I can bask in my completeness, my arrival.  Nope, I get there the next day and there are more movies in that return bin than ever.  They are falling out it’s so full.  Vanity of vanities.  Trying to complete this toilsome task is wearisome it’s like chasing after the wind.  I never quite grasp it.

You know this to be true at your respective jobs.

Work at the high school.  Stock the snack bar with Capri suns, water, Gatorades, chips, snacks, between lunches, before lunches.  Stock it up and students buy stuff and it needs to be restocked.  But you just restocked this thing and now you have to do it again.  Never feels like you will get there.  When will you arrive?  You will have a line of students tomorrow buying more snacks, depleting your shelves.  You will have more money to count.

Some of you are teachers.  You plan a lesson and teach it.  Plan a lesson and teach it.  Give an assignment.  Students turn in papers.  You grade the papers and turn them back in.  But as soon as that stack of papers is graded, they turn in another paper and you have to grade them.  And plan another lesson and teach it.  You look at that stack of papers.  It represents the journey.  When you’re done grading that stack, will you be there?  Will you have arrived?  No, because as soon as you give them back the stack rises again.  You haven’t arrived; the cycle continues.

Bank.  After you close down and balance the drawers and make the deposits have you arrived?  Nope, more people with more money will come tomorrow.

Lineman.   After the electricity goes out in a neighborhood and you go and fix it, does not lightning strike somewhere and create more work for you?  Are you ever there?  Have you ever arrived?  Is your toilsome labor ever complete?  What do you gain from all your toilsome labor under the sun?

Car Salesman.  You sell a car, but another car pulls up on the lot.

Real estate.  You sell a house, but they keep building more and people keep moving.

Purchaser.  People keep buying sidewall tables for Bombardier jets and you keep purchasing more and more materials to build sidewall tables.

HOUSEHOLD CYCLE

Now, that’s work.  But when we get home in the evening or the weekend, we can just relax, right?  At home, it’s different, right?  There is a point at home when you can say, “I have arrived.  I’m there.”  True?  I have two words: laundry & dishes.

LAUNDRY

Does it ever feel like laundry will never end?  It won’t…not unless you just start throwing away your clothes after they get dirty.  Consider laundry.  The dirty clothes hamper piles up, it gets full.  You look at it, dread it, throw the pile in the washing machine.  Empty that pile into the dryer.  Put another pile into the washer.  When the cycle is finished, pull the dry clothes out and fold them and put them away.  All the while, our thinking is okay, when this pile is dry and put away, we will be there.  We will have arrived?  But when those clothes are done, are we there yet?  Have we arrived?  No! The dirty clothes hamper is full again.  It will never be finished.  We will never arrive.  There will always be laundry.  It is a maddening monotonous never ending cycle, a journey that has no point of arrival.  To attempt to arrive at the finish line of laundry is like a chasing after the wind.  You can never get there.

And DISHES

Does it ever feel like dishes will never end?  They won’t.  Not unless you just buy throw away plastic ware and paper plates.  The sink piles up with used dishes.  You rinse them and put them in the dishwasher.  All the while, our thinking is, okay, when this stack of dishes is clean and put in their proper place, we will be there.  We will have arrived.  But when those dishes are done, are we really there?  Have we really arrived?  No sooner are those dishes put away, then there is another stack of dirty dishes.  It will never be finished we will never arrive.  There will always be dishes to do.  It is a maddening monotonous never ending cycle, a journey that has no point of arrival.  To attempt to arrive at the finish line of doing dishes is like a chasing after the wind.  You can never get there.

OUR VIEWPOINT

So, based on these observations, what should our viewpoint be?  How should we view these seemingly meaningless tasks and this toilsome labor under the sun?

As long as we are doing these seemingly meaningless tasks, as long as we are toiling under the sun working at these cyclical and monotonous chores it means that LIFE IS HAPPENING!

Consider this:

As long as I had a pile of videos to reshelve at blockbuster and a line of customers to check out videos, people were living life.  LIFE IS HAPPENING.

The very fact that the cycle of laundry continues is representative of the fact that LIFE IS HAPPENING!  And even if my pile of dirty dishes never diminishes, even if I never arrive as long as dishes are getting used and dirtied means that people are eating food.  The cycle of washing dishes is representative of the fact that LIFE IS HAPPENING!

So do we really want to get there?  Do we really want to arrive?  If we get there, if we arrive, if we can truly say, “I’m done” then what we are really saying is that life isn’t happening.

Life is a cyclical, never ending journey, and work is a major major part of life.

WORK A CURSE?  And a lot of people look at the first few chapters of Genesis and get the wrong idea about work.  They walk away thinking for some reason that work is a bad thing, that work is a part of the curse, that if Adam never ate the forbidden fruit, then nobody would have to work.  Not true.  God put Adam to work in the garden before he ate the fruit.  Work, toil, labor is not a curse; it is part of life.

If our view is that work sucks and we can’t wait till the task is done before we can enjoy life, if we have a business before pleasure and never the twain shall meet mentality then we are seriously limiting the enjoyment in our lives.  There are 168 hours in a week.  If we only work 40 hours a week and sleep 8 hours a day or 56 hours a week, then we are limiting our enjoyment to 72 hours a week.

We are saying that our toilsome labor is wearisome and we can only enjoy life for a few hours every weeknight and then on the weekends.  No wonder we say TGIF.  At work, “Are we there yet?” translates to: “is it Friday at 5:00 pm yet?”

But if this is the case, then we should change our perspective.  Why reduce our enjoyment of life by 40 hours a week?  I know most of us work more than that, which makes it even more drastic.

Because we never really arrive.  We never really get there.  Friday comes.  But Monday comes right back around.  We only think we arrive, but soon realize that our arrival is short lived because more people need more things and more clients call, and more videos get returned and more snacks need to be stocked and more dirty clothes need to be washed and we realize, “I’m not there after all.”  If this whole thing is a cyclical, never ending journey, we might as well enjoy the journey.

If people receive nothing from all their toilsome labor under the sun, if we don’t really arrive, if we get no end, no goal, no reward from our labor, we might as well learn to enjoy the tasks that God has given us to do under the sun.

Rather than seeing our work as a burden, some wearisome task that we must accomplish before we can experience joy, let us enjoy our work.  Rather than business before pleasure, let us make our business pleasure.

That does away with TGIF.  Then we have TGIM, TGIT, TGIW, TGIT, TGIF, and TGIS.

And so much of that is a matter of perspective.  We choose the mindset with which we approach Monday morning.  I challenge you to change your view on work and see it not as a task to be completed before you can enjoy life, but as a never ending part of life that you might as well try to enjoy.  Don’t dread Monday mornings and live for Friday afternoon.

Enjoy the work that God has given you to do.

Although the Teacher hasn’t given us a preliminary conclusion quite yet, I’m going to jump us ahead to Ecc 2:22-25 where he does, just so that you can see that my what I’m encouraging based on this morning’s discussion is not divorced from that of the teacher’s encouragement.

After more extensive discussion, he returns to the question he asked at the beginning in 1:3.

Ecc 2:22-25 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

I’m about to get all Christian and pastoral on you.  This is not something you will find in Ecclesiastes, but I believe it is completely relevant.

This book was written during the OC age, but you and I are living in the NC age of Messiah and we have a more extensive revelation on life under the sun living as those in Christ.

I want to make two brief points about toil in light of Christian living.

The first is that in Christ, we are called not to serve self but to serve others.  So while the Teacher in Ecclesiastes is going all philosophical on us and asking, “What do I get from all my labor?”  You and I approach life a little differently because our set of questions includes, “How can I serve others?”

For most of us, our work is usually a form of service.

  • Even when I was working at Blockbuster, to some degree I was providing a service – providing a means of entertainment or enjoyment to others.  So even if I never gained anything from my toilsome labor, even if I never arrived, I was serving others.

  • Even though you teachers never arrive, even if you gain nothing by all your toilsome labor, others do.  Others benefit, others gain.  You are serving others by educating them.

  • Even if the extent of your toilsome labor is doing dishes and laundry for people who seem to think that they magically get clean and put away, even if you never arrive, even if you gain nothing by all your toilsome labor, others do gain.  You are serving others.

Not only do we have an opportunity to serve others in our work, it is an opportunity to serve God.  In Col 3:22-23, Paul encourages slaves to serve their earthly masters with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. He says, 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

What if we adopt this perspective, this attitude in our work?  We can live out our jobs, our toil, our labor in a way that fulfills our purpose in Christ to love God and love others by serving them and viewing our service as unto the Lord not men.

CONCLUSION:

As long as I overlook the cyclical nature and maddening monotony of the human experience in this life under the sun, I will find frustration.  My tasks are never done.  I never arrive.  I keep asking, “Are we there yet?” and the answer is continually, “No.”  I ask “How long till we get there?” The answer is, “never.”

Let us recognize, accept, embrace, and let us even enjoy the cyclical nature, the monotonous madness of the human experience, this life under the sun.  Once we realize that we will never arrive, that we’ll never get there, that the work is never really done, then we can learn to enjoy the ride, learn to enjoy the journey and take pleasure in our toil under the sun.  This seemingly meaningless life, then becomes much more meaningful.