Satisfaction and Vanity

“Thus, I became great and I did more than all of those who were before me in Jerusalem. Indeed, wisdom accompanied me. All that my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold any joy from my heart from all of my toil and this was my share from all of my labors. Then I turned away from all the work my hands had done and from my exertions in doing it and I beheld that all was vanity and exasperates the spirit; nothing was gained under the sun.”

(Ecclesiastes 2:9-11)

It is true, there is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from the completion of hard day’s work. One of the things I enjoyed, during the little over a decade that I installed carpet vocationally, was that by the end of the day, I could look back with satisfaction at the transformation that we wrought in a person’s home…new carpet will do that. Solomon is saying to us, “look folks, I understand the satisfaction — the joy — that comes from one’s labors and from the pursuit of every earthly pleasure that is under the sun, but…”

It’s always the “but” that gets to us, isn’t it? It’s that little detail that puts everything into perspective. These things are good, but… And he is saying that he knows the joys and pleasures that come from these earthly things, but if one simply is living for such pleasure then your labors are in vain. New carpet gets dirty when it is walked on and it gets yellowed and stained over time. New construction breaks down. People grow old and die. Endeavors fade and people’s memories are short. They are vain and all of these pursuits will exasperate your spirit if this pursuit is an end unto itself. If you are pursuing God first, and these labors are a means to an end, then we have a different conversation entirely.

There is a saying that floats around American circles periodically that goes: “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” In other words, the process of learning that comes along with striving for a goal is more valuable to you in the long run than the goal itself. And, while I do not wish to discount the value of learning “along the journey,” we must remember that without eyes set clearly on the goal, the journey, no matter how valuable in the short run, will be of no lasting value because it is set entirely in earthly things that fade and disappear. For the believer, the goal is the glory of God and the journey we are on only makes sense in light of that goal. Else, at the final judgment we will look at all we accomplished and say, “It was vanity.”

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