Wisdom, pleasure, and work cannot stand on their own two feet. They require a foundation, and that foundation is the God of eternity. There are real consolations in this life, for believer and unbeliever alike. There are children, there are the beauties and intricacies of nature, there is poetry and music, and the joy of human relationships. But these require a perspective, which comes from outside this world. Even, or especially, in times of devastation accompanied by a deep sense of sin, such as Judah experienced when Babylon destroyed it in 586 B.C., we are meant to lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven (Lam.3:41).
Life under the sun, without God, is ‘habel’, which is a Hebrew word which describes what is ‘vanity’, ‘meaningless’, or ‘vaporous’ (Eccles.1:2-3). The Christian will have his moments, but the same book of Scripture says that there is nevertheless a meaningful rhythm to all of life: ‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace’ (Eccles.3:1-8).
What gives life meaning? Sometimes life can seem quite trivial. When the Viceroy’s palace in New Delhi was constructed, beginning in 1912, it was an architectural masterpiece, and thousands of servants and gardeners were employed. Fifty of them were given the sole task of chasing away birds – a repetitive job, no doubt, but perhaps more immediately helpful than many tasks assigned to those working in Western bureaucracies.
At other times people try to eke out more than this life can provide.