A Fool’s Errand

An exposition of Ecclesiastes 1:12-18. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered by Pastor Rod Harris on Sunday morning, July 18, 2010.

It may not always be expressed in the same way.  In fact, it may not be worked out to the point the person even understands what they are longing for but people want to know, “why they are here.”  I don’t mean why they are in church today.  I mean why are they on the planet?  Why do they exist?  What is the purpose or meaning of life?  Tied directly to this question is the confusion surrounding why the accumulation of wealth, power and influence does not satisfy.  You may say, “Well I’ve really not been given the opportunity to test that hypothesis.  I can’t say wealth, power and influence does not satisfy I haven’t experience any of them for myself.”  Perhaps not but you’ve desired something.  Something that you believed, if you just got it – you would know happiness.  So you worked and you planned and you saved and finally you got what you wanted and it was wonderful…for a while.  But soon the joy passed.  The newness wore off.  It did not satisfy and something else caught your attention and you were certain that it would bring lasting joy.

Just for fun the other day I “googled” – “the path to happiness.”  I found listed several websites that promised to guide me down the path to true and genuine happiness.  One was actually named pathtohappiness.com!  The website assures Happiness is not a result of what happens to us, it is a result of the stories we tell ourselves about what happens to us.  The site promises to guide you through a process of identifying the stories you tell yourself, how to evaluate them, offer you other stories that might better serve you and thus lead you to genuine, lasting happiness.  According to an article in USA Today one of the fastest growing industries in the country is “Life Coaching.”  A life coach is an individual who comes along side to get you “unstuck” professionally or personally.  I would have to add to this, because it was not covered in the USA Today article, “spiritual coaching.”  According to the article, written in 208, there were 10,000 life coaches operating in the United States.  That number has risen dramatically over the last couple of years.  Why?  In spite of all of our technological advances, regardless of our high standard of living, despite Facebook, people are lonely, frustrated, unfulfilled and empty.  The cry of “the preacher” 10 centuries before Christ rings true today, “Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity!”  All of life is empty, transient and passing.  Our text this morning is found in the first chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes.

Text: Ecclesiastes 1:12-18
The preacher, the one who calls the assembly is walking us through a process.
He is surveying his life and looking at his life as a great experiment.
He is thinking out loud about life and its lessons.
At times he seems depressed and melancholy but you must remember the phrase, “Under the sun.”

Life with God out of the equation.
Life without regard for God or the things of God.
Life from a merely human perspective leads to these conclusions.
It is a fallacy to believe the writer thinks nothing in life is worthwhile.

He is not saying there is nothing of any value in anything – he is saying, if there is no God and this is all there is – it is ultimately empty and unsatisfying.  Sin always has its pleasures.  The most godless person you can think of has his moments of peace and joy.  The point is such peace and joy ultimately prove to be fleeting.  They do not last and they do not satisfy.

He begins by stating his conclusion – life under the sun is full of vanity.
Vanity = empty, transient, fading, unsatisfying, unfulfilling
Life apart from God is an endless drudgery leading nowhere.
It is a meaningless, monotonous existence.
It is an empty memory.
In other words it is a vain and empty pursuit.

We pick up with verse 12 of chapter 1 (read the text).

Here we discover…
Thesis: Any attempt to gain meaningful satisfaction through intellectual pursuits proves to be a fool’s errand.

You know what a fool’s errand is – it is a fruitless mission or undertaking; a completely absurd and pointless pursuit.  It is a task or activity that has no hope of succeeding.  That’s what Solomon describes in our text.

I think we need to understand this because we live in a culture that believes if you just “educate” people everything will be okay.  The problem is people just don’t know.  When they know this or that is wrong or hurtful they won’t do that anymore.  That’s not true.  It’s not that simple.  Don’t misunderstand me – I’m all for education.  “I are educated” but knowledge, by and in itself, is not the answer.  Solomon makes that clear in our text.

Let me point out 3 things.

  1. A sincere, diligent search for meaning through mere human wisdom proves fruitless.  (1:12-14)
  2. In spite of profound effort applied with genuine desire answers prove to be allusive.  (1:15-17)
  3. Such pursuits only add to the misery of life apart from God.  (1:18)

Solomon did not say, and I’m certainly not going to say, that if you are not a Christian you cannot know any joy in this life.  Of course there are moments of joy, peace and genuine happiness but they ultimately fade.  They are transient, they are passing.  Those moments will not fill the emptiness deep within your soul.  In fact those moments only cause you to hunger more for genuine, lasting fulfillment.  A fulfillment that can only be known through Christ.

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