CHASING AFTER THE WIND
Remember the movie, Jeremiah Johnson? It was about a low lander, a sometime city dweller who became dissatisfied, even disgusted with is position in life. He left the rat race of people, commerce, trade, noise and towns to be come a mountain man.
When he went high up into the Rockies, he was green and unprepared. With the guidance of an old pro and a little luck and a willingness to learn and a desire to survive, he became a rugged mountain man.
The name of the game was survival. And to survive, you had to kill. He married an Indian woman and had children. But, while he was gone, the Indians killed his family. So he killed and killed and killed some more. He became the great enemy and all the Indians sought to kill him because he was so great and there would be great glory to the man who killed him. He became so feared that some of the Indians fell down and worshiped him. He reputation spread far and wide.
In the final scene, the old mountain man who had taught Johnson so long ago, came by and found him setting by his camp fire. The old man said, “you have come a long way, pilgrim But, you could tell by the look in his eyes and the demeanor of his body that it did not matter. He left the flat land, the towns and business to find meaning. But, it was all vanity, chasing after wind.
This book is called Ecclesiastes which is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Qoheleth, which means “one who addresses an assembly.” It is most often translated as “Preacher.” It is assumed that the author is Solomon or at least, the wisdom found there came from Solomon.
The Book is dark and cynical. Though it is 3000 years old, it is timeless, it is as if it was written for us today and for our generation. Solomon drives you to the very edge of disaster, to the very extremes of life so that we may see the futility of living a life without God.
Solomon wrote from experience. Unfortunately, Solomon, a man known for his wisdom, turned away from God more than once pursuing all that is “under the sun.”
In Chapter one, Solomon attacks all that is secular, any kind of life that is lived without God. Vanity of vanities All is vanity These are words of nihilism. The life that is lived under the sun is utterly meaningless. We are but a vapor, here for a little while an then gone. The word vanity is used to mean unreliable, frailty, a leaning wall or a tottering fence. In fact, it is the same word as the name Abel who was killed by his brother Cain, He too was but a vapor.
I was thinking about time this week. Someone asked in an email how I got through seminary and I told them. I remember it as if it was yesterday but I graduated from the doctoral program 23 years ago this December. And I thought further, I have about 15 good years of ministry left if my health holds up. And I was humbled by the passage of time and my small moment in it. It was if I were a speck of dust hardly making a wave in the great ocean of the universe.
The preacher is brutally honest about this. Our time is so short it is like a vapor. In a few moments, it is as if we never existed. In a generation or two, no one will know our names, no one will know our joys or our sufferings, they will not know our passions or the things we hate. It is as if the universe did not even notice of our existence.
We humans come and go all in a brief while, but the earth goes on forever. The sun comes up and goes down and does it all again the next day. The winds blow, the rains fall, runs into the seas where it is evaporated and the cycle starts all over again. Life go on in the same cycles. But, we toil in vain, we strive in vain and then we die.
Then he says that all things are wearisome, man is not able to tell it. As your read his words, you feel beaten down.
9 That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new?” Already it has existed for ages Which were before us. (Ecc 1:9-10 NAS)
Everything remains the same, human nature is the same, the world is the same, our fate is the same. In other words, Your are born, things happen, then you die. What pessimism!
The Preacher says that if you’ve began to suspect that life stinks, your right. If you think that all life is, is one big pain, you guessed it. If you have concluded that life under the sun is meaningless, you have discovered the hidden secret. This is what life is like under our human perspective.
Through the centuries many men and women have come to the same conclusion. The tennis star, Boris Becker, was an enormously successful tennis player who came close to taking his own life because of his hopelessness and emptiness. Something was terribly missing. He said, I had won Wimbledon twice before, once as the youngest player. I was rich. I had all the material possessions I needed: money cars, women, everything … I know that this is a cliché. It’s the old song of the movie and pop stars who commit suicide. They have everything, and yet they are so unhappy… I had no inner peace. I was a puppet on a string (McGrath, Intellectuals don’t Need God and Other Modern Myths, 15).
Jack Higgins, is one of my favorite authors. His best selling novel, The Eagle Has landed, that put him on the literary map. And he still writes one novel a year. Higgins was once asked, “what do you know now that you would like to have known when you were a boy?” His reply, “That when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.” (McGrath, 15)
Humanity understands our place in the universe. We are but a vapor, nothing is new under the sun, we are but a speck of dust. This reality renders us inhuman. Yet, Solomon knows that deep down under this grim reality, God is there and he is at work. If we were to tell the story as Solomon tells it, we could not give any hope in this depressing saga we call life. But we are not Solomon and I don’t want to wait, it is too painful not to look at the end of the book.
John Wesley was preaching his way through the book of Ecclesiastes and he wrote this. “Never before had I so clear a sight either of its meaning or beauties. Neither did I imagine, that the several parts of it were in exquisite a manner connected together, all tending to prove the grand truth, there is no happiness out(side) of God.”
Solomon put it like this, “fear God and obey his commandments.” All that we know about being saved is true, there is only one hope and that is in Christ. Solomon’s ultimate conclusion for us is this, to obey God is to be fully human. ( D. Garrett, The New American Commentary, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 344) Outside of God, all of existence is nothing but dust in the wind, it is form without meaning.