Finding Comfort In a Cynic’s Words
“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). These aren’t exactly the words you want to hear in the morning—look who woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The intention behind them, though, is actually quite comforting.
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes goes on to prove that he doesn’t need counseling, but instead should be our counselor: “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted . . . I have acquired great wisdom . . . [But] in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:15–16, 18). And although we may want to deny this fact, it’s a truism that haunts all great people: we may help the hurting people in our world, but we will never be able to end the pain and knowledge alone will simply not get us there. Words on paper are not the solution. A manifesto, like the Declaration of Independence, may prompt great change, but what is it without action? It is vanity. It’s a striving after the wind.
Delusion of importance has crushed many great people’s efforts. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s what keeps most people from becoming what God wants them to be. And it’s not just the delusion of grandeur; it’s the delusion of insignificance or the distraction of focus. You become what you do, and what you think, write, speak, or feel, is meaningless if it’s not what you do.
We as Christians are meant to act. As Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, by what will it be made salty? It is good for nothing any longer except to be thrown outside and trampled underfoot by people” (Matthew 5:13). If we are salt, let’s be salty. If we are light, let’s shine brightly (Matthew 5:14). Anything other than that is vain. It’s searching for knowledge for knowledge’s sake. It leaves both us and the world empty.
There is comfort to be found in the Preacher of Ecclesiastes’ words in that he is telling us, albeit through harshness and well-put cynicism, that we’re meant for more than we usually recognize. He calls us to rise to that: to shun the unimportant and focus on God’s work. What good is wisdom and knowledge if it’s not for that purpose?