What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun? [Ecclesiastes 1:2-3]
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. [Romans 8: 9-11]
If you are looking for a mind bending experience I highly recommend reading the book of Ecclesiastes in parallel with Paul’s letter to the Romans.
I read the Bible every day. About four years ago I decided that I would try and read one chapter from the old testament one day followed by a chapter from the new testament the next. So on January 1 I read Genesis 1, on the 2nd I read Matthew 1 etc. The result has been that while I am still on my first pass through the Old Testament, I am on my third or fourth pass through the New Testament. A few weeks ago I started in on Ecclesiastes followed the next day by Romans. What I have discovered, in part, is that the two authors could not have a more opposite outlook on life!
King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes at a low point in his spiritual life. He had every physical thing the heart could desire, money, power, sex, you name it, but he didn’t have inner peace and satisfaction. Paul on the other had wrote Romans from a prison cell, awaiting trial for blasphemy and disturbing the peace. He had nothing and was facing the very real possibility of his own imminent death.
But where Solomon is full of despair and hopelessness, Paul is full of joy and hope. Why? Because Paul knew something Solomon didn’t. Paul new that this life is not the end and that by remaining alive we are given an opportunity through Jesus to live a full and righteous existence no matter our circumstances. Where Solomon saw meaninglessness, Paul saw opportunities to serve and make life better even though he might not reap the benefits of his labor himself. Solomon saw life as a vain pursuit of personal gain, Paul saw himself as already dead and continuing to live out the mission started my Jesus so many years before.
Elsewhere in Paul’s writings we find this (my personal life verse);
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [Galatians 2:20]
Solomon concludes at the end of Ecclesiastes that the only thing left to do in order to make sense of this meaningless existence is to fear God and keep his commandments. In an Old Testament context that’s as good as it gets, follow the rules and maybe, just maybe God will bless you in the next life, there isn’t really much hope in that. Hope comes from knowing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law – it’s already done so that living this life in him is freedom and perfection.
That is the promise of a life well lived, “in Christ” and it is no longer meaningless.