Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 1/7/09

This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.

Last night, we began a new book study at Sola5 for the first time in nearly two years. Sticking with our tradition of alternating between studying New and Old Testament books, we began a journey through one of my favorites, Ecclesiastes, that we’re calling Chasing After the Wind. We started with a quick introduction to the book – who Solomon was, why he wrote, etc. We then tackled the first eleven verses, and sought to understand what the ancient and frankly depressing text could have to say to us today. The answer? Everything.

Solomon keys us on the main point of the passage, and the book for that matter, in the opening verses. “Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity!” he declares. The word translated “vanity” literally means “a short, quick breath or wind.” When used poetically, as it is here, it means “vain, empty, meaningless, worthless.” Solomon’s declaration is that all of life is meaningless and empty. Not exactly the sentiment you’d put on a motivational poster, right? So what’s his point? To understand, we talked last night about the fact that in life, all of us are chasing something. Maybe it’s a career, or a dream, or a hobby, or a person, but all of us spend our lives seeking satisfaction somewhere. Thus, our question was, what are you chasing? Is it something that will last, or is it vanity? To explore, we looked at three things Solomon guides us to check if we’re to see wisely. The first is our perspective. We tend to get very bogged down in the day to day, rarely seeing past the next couple days. Solomon asks what we accomplish when it is all said and done, when we view our labors from the perspective of a lifetime. He asks, “What do you gain by your work? By your chasing?” After all, generations have come before us, and they are all dead and gone, and they didn’t take their work and effort with them. Think of what you’re chasing. When you die, will it last? Or will you lose it all?

Secondly, we checked our purpose. Solomon begins to use several examples from the natural world to show that though we may be busy, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re accomplishing anything. My favorite example is the one he gives of rivers that flow constantly into the sea, yet the sea is never full and the rivers never stop. If you live near a big river (here in Louisville, we have the Ohio), think about it. Millions of gallons of water flow by you every day, making their way to the ocean, yet the ocean stays the same. Every day, millions more gallons flow by. Are you constantly busy, working at living the life you dream of, only to find that you accomplish nothing? When you die, will you have gained anything by the things you’ve spent your life chasing?

Finally, we checked our pride. Solomon points to our innate human desire to leave our mark on the world, to do something that no one has done before. We think that by doing so, we will give our lives significance. Yet, Solomon says, there is nothing new under the sun. Sure, times and technology change, but the things that we strive for and seek to do never change. In 1000 BC, when he lived, wars were fought over power, over wealth, over freedom. Today, wars are waged for the same reasons, only with different means. He also points out that there is no remembrance of people gone before, and it will be the same for us. I asked my students last night (a group of 11 aged 12-18) if they could name the first person to climb Mt. Everest, the first Super Bowl MVP, the first million-dollar actor, the first person in space. No one could name any of them. These people did earth-shattering things, they were the gods of their time, and they all did them within the past 100 years, yet here, a sampling of young people knew nothing about them. As those who witnessed their feats pass away, they will be largely forgotten, save for the few scholars and fans who tuck the trivia away. Is your life’s highest goal to do something great, to leave your mark on the world? Don’t bother, Solomon says, nobody will remember you when you’re dead anyway.

Why such a depressing view of life? What benefit could this possibly have for us? Why is Solomon saying these things? He’s saying them because he’s trying to tear down anything that we’ve built our lives around that is not God. We will see in the book, Solomon has realized that only God can give life meaning and purpose, and if we elevate anything in life above him – good or bad – we will reach the end realizing that we wasted our life. That the realization that he had come to. As we prepare to go further in the book, ask yourself, “What am I chasing? What am I living for?” Ask yourself if it’s something that will ultimately be “vanity,” and if it is, tear it down and let God be your foundation and your driving purpose. Ecclesiastes is not an easy book to read, but it has so much to say to us as we embark on life’s journey.

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