Chasing after the wind
Have you ever tried to chase after the wind?
How ridiculous would that be?
What a colossal waste of time!
No one in human history has ever chased the wind and caught it.
It’s the definition of futility.
And it’s the simile used over and over again in Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:23 to describe pretty much everything we devote our lives to.
I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 1:13-14
Firstly study. Academic knowledge. For some, this is the most important thing right now as they drown in revision and face imminent exams. For a while, academic knowledge can seem like the most important thing in the world. GCSEs, A Levels, University exams…a constant round of study and assignments and exam papers.
And does all this study ever seem completely pointless?
What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. I said to myself, ‘Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.’ Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 1:15-17
At the end of the day, where does all this study get us? What is the point of it all? What have we actually managed to change and influence? How many of us worked so hard for our degrees only to find we could not get a job that used this knowledge?
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief. Ecclesiastes 1:18
The more you know, the harder life becomes. Isn’t that true? And the more you learn, you more you realise there is to learn. So why bother?
I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless. ‘Laughter,’ I said, ‘is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?’ I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives. Ecclesiastes 2:1-3
So how about the pursuit of pleasure? Is that what life is all about? Living life to the full. Embracing all that life has to offer. Drinking. Having fun. Laughing. And when the laughing is over and the hangover has set in, what have you really achieved? Is that lasting fulfilment and happiness? Good while it lasts, that’s all.
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well – the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labour, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:4-11
So let’s try hard work. Work hard, play hard, you know the score. Get a bigger and better house. Spend every weekend on home improvements. Landscaping the garden. Get as rich as you can. Get as many people working for you as you can. Get as much stuff as you can. If aliens came to earth to observe our civilisation, what would they see? A people whose reason for living is to buy more. With possessions comes fame. Celebrity. Notoriety. Significance.
Except when you stand back and survey all you have achieved, what does it actually amount to? When you’re old and ill lying in a hospital bed alongside all those other men who are old and ill, what does anything you have achieved or amassed in your life count for now?
Wisdom and folly are meaningless. Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done? I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realise that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I said to myself, ‘The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?’ I said to myself,
‘This too is meaningless.’ Ecclesiastes 2:11-15
You know, however wise you are and however foolish you are, we’ll all end up in the same place. In the same position. Nothing we do can really change that. Some would say wisdom is better than foolishness, because you are aware of what you are doing, but isn’t ignorance bliss?
For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die! Toil is meaningless.
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.
So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labour under the sun. For a person may labour with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 2:16-23
What will any of us actually be remembered for when we are gone? What will happen to all that we have left behind? What is life all about?
TO DO: Take a step back from your own life. Go back to the start and divide your life up into chunks of five to ten year periods. Against each period, write what mattered to you most at the time…what you spent your time, money and energy on. Then go back and assess how fulfilled you felt at the time. How much meaning did this activity bring to your life? Keep going until you arrive at now. What matters now? What are you focussing on right now? What is giving your life meaning right now?