Ashes: Meaningless // Meaning-full

March 10

Writer: Jon Sizelove

Key Passages: Ecclesiastes 1; Proverbs 16:1-3; 19:21

Big Idea: At the end of our lives, what will we reflect on? King Solomon was the wisest man to ever walk the earth, he built kingdoms, palaces and the Temple. At the end of his life he reaches an existential crisis – to what end? The season of lent brings clarity to what we build our lives on and reveals it for what it is. This week we set up our series by looking at what Solomon means by “meaningless” as a chasing after vapor. Throughout this series we are going to look at how Jesus gives us the ultimate meaning and fulfillment in life.

Phil Connors, a weatherman from Pittsburgh, travels to Punxsutawney Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities. Phil wakes up the next morning only to realize he is reliving Groundhog Day all over again. This is the beginning of the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, staring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. This movie uses a common literary device often referred to as a “time loop”. A time loop sees the protagonist repeating the same event over and over and over again. The protagonist, after discovering they are stuck in the time loop, reaches a point where their life becomes meaningless. No matter what they do, their efforts are undone when the loop restarts. Their desperation reaches a point where the hero seeks to end the loop by taking their life, Phil Connors is no exception. Over and over again Phil tries various means to end his life. In the most elaborate attempt, Phil Connors kidnaps the groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, and drives to a quarry where he has a showdown with the police. The two Phils end up driving their truck off a cliff.

When life becomes hopeless, depression and desperation come crashing down upon us. In Applied Ethics the topic of Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide is routinely discussed. Early arguments for those in favor of Physician Assisted Suicide would limit the practice to those patients who were “terminally ill.” Current arguments have stopped using the vocabulary of “terminally ill” and are now focusing on patients who have a “hopeless condition” or a “meaningless life.” The implication being, a life without meaning and hope is a life not worth living.

The book of Ecclesiastes explores the reality that human existence in and of itself is meaningless and absurd. Ecclesiastes starts with a poem that poses a problem the author, King Solomon, is trying to explore: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the teacher, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

The poem then gives an explanation as to why the teacher thinks everything is meaningless; this is broken down into three aspects. The first is the relentless nature of creation. The same events happen over and over and over again, “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.” “Streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.” “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” Nothing ever changes. The second reason for why life is meaningless is that no matter what mankind accomplishes, nothing is ever new and no one will remember or care what is done. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” “No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.” The third argument for the meaninglessness of life is that wisdom and human endeavors in and of themselves are useless. All the work that humans attempt, end up changing nothing. “What is crooked cannot be straightened, what is lacking cannot be counted.” While knowledge should bring peace, wisdom should bring success yet, Solomon states, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

Like Phil Connors who is stuck in Punxsutawney, reliving the same useless day over and over again. Solomon sees the totality of mankind as being stuck in the same situation. The only difference is that while Phil Connors realizes he is stuck in his time loop, the rest of mankind is blinded into thinking that our lives are new and meaningful when in reality they are not.

This leads to the question of, why live? Why would a person want to continue living when life seems to be so meaningless? The book of Ecclesiastes sets out to answer this very question and addresses this issue in a way that is different from the rest of the Bible. Typically, scripture encourages us to live a holy and righteous life. In the book of Proverbs, you will find over and over again the idea that the foolish will suffer and perish but the wise will live long and prosper. We need to flee from evil and cling to what is good, we can find purpose in doing what is right and good and oppose those who are corrupt and evil. Yet, Ecclesiastes shows that regardless of who you are, life is meaningless. Yes, the evil do perish, but so do the righteous. In Ecclesiastes those who are foolish, prideful, materialistic and seekers of pleasure live lives that are of no worth, but so do those who are wise, kind and lovers of truth. Being good does not save you, nor does it bring meaning and purpose to one’s life.

Ecclesiastes brings us to the doorstep of the Gospel and drops us off at the foot of the cross. There is nothing we can accomplish that will bring meaning and purpose to our lives. Meaning, purpose and a reason to live can only be found in having a relationship with Jesus Christ. The true message of the Gospel is this, whereas to all who are perishing in this world, life is meaningless, yet in Christ we find hope, meaning and life eternal.

Readings: Ecclesiastes 1

Discussion Questions:

  • In what ways have you seen that this current life is meaningless?
  • What are some ways people try to bring meaning into their lives and cope with the hopelessness of life?
  • What are some of the ways Christ has brought meaning into your life?
  • What is the greatest thing about being a Christian?
  • As you look toward the future, what is your greatest hope?
  • If you could have a non-Christian friend or family member experience what it feels like to be a Christian what would be one thing you would want them to experience or understand?

Daily Readings:

3/11 Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
3/12 Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 3/13 Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
3/14 Ecclesiastes 2:12-16 3/15 Ecclesiastes 2:17-23 3/16-17 – Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

Weekly Prayer Focus: As we take advantage of the natural pause of the Lent Season, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to reveal those meaningless things we are chasing so He can fill them with things meaning-full.