3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. Ecclesiastes 1:3-5
I always come to Ecclesiastes in a reading plan with gritted teeth because it’s such a tough read. If you’re new to the Bible, you might be surprised that Ecclesiastes even made the cut. It is a brutally honest, depressing look at the futility of life “under the sun.” (Side note— we get to this part of the reading plan when many of you will be on vacation at the beach. I’ve learned that it’s a nice balance to be LITERALLY “under the sun” while reading Ecclesiastes).
Tara-Leigh gave us the count for how often the term “Vanity of Vanities” shows up in Ecclesiastes— 38 times. But a close second is “Under the sun”— 27 times. It’s a little hard to pin down a precise meaning, but most commentators believe it refers to life lived without God in the equation. Life “under the sun” is life as I see it. Life based on what is observed. And so, yeah. If all I see is all there is, then life is meaningless at best and hopeless at worst.
If Ecclesiastes was all you had of the Bible, you would have a really bleak worldview. Pink Floyd, a band not known for their cheery, optimistic lyrics, actually captured the heart of Ecclesiastes in their classic song, “Time:“
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.
Dude. If you’re getting quoted by Pink Floyd, you’ve got a pretty bleak worldview.
In Ecclesiastes, you see the sum total of life lived under the sun. It feels like a book Solomon would have written at the end of his life, as a bitter, cynical old man. He has looked for meaning through hedonism, pleasure, and philosophy. He’s sample the very best that life under the sun has to offer, and it has all fallen woefully short. Ed Young, longtime pastor of Second Baptist Church, Houston Texas, summed up the message of Ecclesiastes as, “Been There, Done That, Now What?”
But the whole message of the Bible is that there is more to life than what we see under the sun. Our call as believers is to look “not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient. But the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18).
There is so much more to reality than what can be seen under the sun. As Christians, we have an “above the sun” worldview, because we have an out of this world destination.