“What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 2:22 NIV
It is good to work. If you are blessed with having found work, especially the work you feel God prepared in advance for you to do, as Paul expresses it in Ephesians, then you are a fortunate person indeed. The writer of the book of Eccles (as you know by now I call it) is not keen on the idea of work, labour or storing things up for oneself. He rightly tells us that we can’t take any of it with us when we die, that life is short and that most of it seems pretty pointless.
He’s not the cheeriest of chaps, really, old Eccles. I am not sure I’d want to spend a great deal of time with him. I don’t think he’d be one of my choices in that game of fantasy dinner guests. And yet, when I am feeling low, I agree with him. If I am down and exhausted, the thing I’m most likely asking myself is “What’s the point?” It can feel like all the pain and effort, all the trying, all the striving, is all for nothing. Even the things that I enjoy doing, like writing and art, seem like just so much chaff blowing away on the wind.
Perhaps the best thing we can do with this realisation is to embrace it. There really is no point storing up earthly wealth, so that ambition can be let go. Being poor is not a lot of fun though, and debt leads to a great many problems as well as terrible stress, and perhaps this wasn’t something that preoccupied the writer of Eccles that much as he is widely believed to be King Solomon, who wasn’t exactly short of a bob or two. So, once needs are met, we might say, there is not much point chasing after wealth or status for its own sake.
So what is worth striving for? What is worth going after? Fame? Wisdom? Pleasure? No, our advisor doesn’t find these things worth the trouble either. So what then? What is that pearl of great price that Jesus mentions? That treasure that is so great that we should immediately go and sell all we have to procure?
When I think about this, I think of Moses. He lived to the ripe old age of 120 with none of his faculties diminished, after having spent 40 years maturing, another 40 regretting a crime and becoming humble, and finally 40 years serving the Lord faithfully. And yet at the end of all that, he did not get to enter the Promised Land with his people.
We might well say his reward was to come later. That he was to enter a different Promised Land and walk with his God. Yes, that’s true. But for Moses, that eternity had already begun. He was already walking with God, and more intimately than with anyone else who had come before, it seems.
he said, “Listen to my words:
“When there is a prophet among you,
I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,
I speak to them in dreams.
But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the Lord.” Numbers 12: 6-8 NIV
Likewise, when Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus sits at the feet of Jesus to adore him and learn from him, Jesus calls this “the one necessary (or needful) thing.” Relationship with the Lord, then is the key to the meaning of life. This is where we begin our eternity and how we are led deeper into it. In gazing more and more at the Lord of all things, into the heart of love itself, the more the peripery, the other fields, the lesser pearls, all fade into nothingness and we can be sure that we have found something meaningful under the sun, something worth pursuing, worth going after. And the best thing is that it is not something we need to strive for, but something that we simply choose.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 NIV
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