In Ecclesiastes 2:17-26, “The “Preacher” is essentially saying: “I hate my work; I will work all the days of my life, and for what? To hand it off to someone else? He could be a fool for all I know. Every bit of my work and wisdom here on earth will just be passed on to some nameless fool.”
The passage says this is vanity.
“Whatever, it’s inevitable: someone else will just take up my life’s hard work, and he hasn’t done anything for it. Maybe I’m a little bitter and despairing, but wouldn’t you be? You work and work, but for what?”
This is the stuff of Genesis 3: because of us the ground is cursed; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. Where can this curse lead us, besides towards despair, apathy, sorrow, and unrest? Like our preacher here in Ecclesiastes 2, his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. But our character is also sure to say that this also is vanity. How then are futile people to live purposefully?
The psalms tell us there is only one way:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain…
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Our Ecclesiastes passage agrees, but speaks now of enjoyment, There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? Enjoyment? How does enjoyment sneak its way into a conversation about toil, despair, sorrow, and vexation? It enters upon the mention of the name of the Lord. And is this not true in our own lives as well? That our lives and work are vain and endless days of toil and frustration, but upon the entrance of the Lord? It’s like we who walked in darkness have seen a great light; [we] who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on [us] has light shone. God brings order to chaos, purpose to futility, light to darkness.
Living in a now-and-not-yet world, we must recognize that joy and sorrow, good and bad, will coexist and grow together as our lives progress. In “The Parable of the Weeds” in Matthew 13, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to good seed sowed in a field. But, while the workers were sleeping, the enemy planted bad seed among the good. When the servants offered to pluck the weeds from the field, the Master told them not to, lest they uproot some of the good wheat along with the bad weeds. But at harvest time, the good wheat will be brought to the barn, and the bad weeds will be burned. Knowing this parable, it is accurate to say that yes, there will always be toil in work, for we live in a post-Fall world. But we can also be assured that we shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living, for we see there is indeed good wheat springing up among the weeds.
Public Relations is an oddly applicable industry for this type of thinking. Our goal as a public relations firm is to place our clients news with strategic outlets, and to develop our clients’ messaging so that it might interest that chosen audience. With a large and diverse client roster, we are constantly jumping around to work on different accounts, pitching out client news to the media in hopes that an outlet will bite, and talk about our clients’ news. Pitching is a lot like sowing seeds. You plant the news with dozens of people, hoping that interest will spring up. But what ends up happening is that most media people will not respond at all to the messages, some will respond with a “no thanks”, and maybe a few will be interested in the news and work with us. Needing to please a client in order to pay your rent and put dinner on the table brings with it a fair bit of stress, pressure, and frustration. And it is so easy to approach it with a self-centered attitude, like our Preacher in Ecclesiastes: I’m doing all of this work, but nothing is happening. Or, a cynical attitude: this isn’t worthy news, doesn’t the client see that? No wonder we’re not getting the results they want…. Or, an apathetic attitude: I honestly just don’t care about this work at all. And I roll my eyes as I sit back in my chair. All this said, it is a bit harder to see the good wheat among weeds, but again, we live in a Genesis 3 world. Remember our Preacher in this passage says, So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and striving after wind. But we know there is more than that, because we are told that good wheat and bad weeds grow together in the same field until the harvest. In our lifetimes, we will always combat selfishness, cynicism, and apathy as we search for the good wheat. But when you do see it, it’s incredibly uplifting: happy clients who are so pleased with the good work, getting good messages where they need to be so everyone can be more successful and informed, a team supporting one another.
The Preacher says that one should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. The Psalmist says to taste and see that the LORD is good; and blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Isaiah too, calls the people,
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live
In our toil we must recognize what are weeds and what is wheat, and expect them to grow together. In our work, we must let the Lord build through us, that we may be futile people living with purpose. We must have ears to hear the wisdom of God’s word. We are cursed people working a cursed ground, but we have a savior who has and will make all things new. We cursed people are free to live purposefully in the name of God, for He is the one who builds the house; He is the source of rest and joy.
Image: freeimages/hilmi bitim