What is the point? Reflections 7-27-16

 Texts for Sunday, July 31, 2016

 Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
 Psalm 49:1-12
 Colossians 3:1-11
 Luke 12:13-21 

What’s it all about?

What's the point of all this hoax?
Is it the chicken and the egg time? Are we just yolks?
Or, perhaps, we're just one of God's little jokes.
Well, [that is] 'The Meaning of Life'.    -  Monty Python, The Meaning of Life (v.2)

They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.                                  - Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.                                      Ecclesiastes 1:2

I admit it. There are plenty of times, I have agreed with the writer of Ecclesiastes. What’s the point? Life is like spitting in the wind …. you get nowhere no matter how you try. No matter what, you die. I believe it is called existential angst. 

You feel it in depression, but it also comes in just living life. Sometimes life is senseless: cancer, miscarriages, long hours with little or no pay, Alzheimer’s….and just read the news: violence, poverty, war, Zika, starvation, human trafficking, wild fires and floods

Vanity is the word chosen in the New Revised Standard version – as in, life is “lived in vain”. Since our celebrity culture surrounds us, we commonly hear that word as conceited, arrogant, big-headed, so we can’t quite hear what the author is saying. The point is that life is meaningless. You are born, you live, you die.

The Good News Version says life is useless; The Contemporary English Version calls it nonsense, or senseless.   A more direct translation might be “vapor” something unsubstantial. Other words: Futility, absurdity, emptiness, fleeting…. You get the picture.

The interesting thing about the book of Ecclesiastes is that he never really moves on from that viewpoint. His “up” moments include sentiments like
Light is sweet, and it is pleasant 
for the eyes to see the sun. 
Even those who live many years should rejoice in them all; yet let them remember that the days of darkness 
will be many. 
All that comes is vanity.

What to do with this?  It is a strange book to find in the Bible that tells the story of a loving and merciful God. I find it interesting that it was included in the canon.

First, let’s acknowledge his pain… and all the pain that it represents through time, including yours and mine. Sometimes life seems meaningless and unsubstantial. Period. We can try to tell ourselves otherwise but “the days of darkness will be many”.  Like the psalms of lament, it is important to say – in the context of our faith - that life is really empty sometimes.

Our culture doesn’t particularly support this attitude for long. Actually we try to fix it. You can feel bad for a moment but then we have motivational sayings that try to quickly drag us into “sweet and pleasant” joys…work harder, believe harder, hold on to this positive thought, look for the silver lining, or wait for the rainbow after the storm.

But sometimes life is just chasing the wind.

Another message from this book? God is mystery.

How about you? 
What is the meaning of life? 

Have you ever been where the author of Ecclesiastes is?

What connections to these verses can you find in the other texts for today?

You can share your ideas below.

For more reflections on these texts see the G.I.F.T. post for Sunday, July 31, 2016.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245