Vol. 2 - No. 2

February, 1983

What's It All About

by Terry L. Sumerlin

“Why am I here?” “Where am I headed?” “What is the meaning of life?” “What gives life meaning?” All of these are questions asked by responsible people. Though the questions are basically the same, the answers vary from person to per-son. Yet, they still remain within certain well-defined areas. Interestingly, these areas of thought (and pursuit) are as old as our questions. So, you would think that man would have learned something regarding pursuits that truly give life meaning. And, I guess he has. He has learned, too often, that asking the same questions and receiving the same inadequate answers can be terribly frustrating. How frustrating? Let's look at the words of one who gave his all in answer to our question, “What's it all about?”

“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). This is how Solomon viewed life. He groped for answers. He came up empty-handed. He tried it all, and found it mostly trying.

As with many, Solomon looked upon knowledge as the essence of life (Ecc. 1:12-16). Indeed, there is a sense in which knowledge and wisdom are necessary and good (Ecc. 2:13; 2 Peter 3:18). More-over, we would not think of faulting God for blessing Solomon with great wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:11-12). The problem Solomon had with knowledge was not with knowing itself. It was his conception of it. When learning and wisdom become an end within themselves, there is frustration on the part of man. “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow” (Ecc. 1:18). How much can we know, of all there is to know? How much can we remember? Use? Impart? Yet, we still have those who think they have succeeded if they are well educated and failed if they are not. The educated are often idolized; and children are taught that education has top priority. What are we saying? Blessed are the ignorant? Education is bad? We're simply saying that knowledge is not what it's all about.

Perhaps the meaning of life is to be found in things. Solomon tried that too. (Please read Ecc. 2:1-10). He had it all- -- houses, vineyards, servants, maidens, cattle, singers, gold, silver, etc. What he didn't have he could get. What he had most of all was happiness! Don't kid yourself. He said, “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecc. 2:11). Such is the way with things, affluency, and pleasure. So a man has the wealth of Solomon. How much can he take in? The rich man can eat no more than the rest of us. A man who has a house with forty bedrooms can only sleep in one bed at a time. One man never lives long enough to do everything. Yet, suppose one could own everything, take in everything, and do everything. Even so, “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6:7). Things can provide some comfort and pleasure, but there is more to life.

In his search for the meaning of life, Solomon finally did a rather strange thing. After discovering the emptiness of knowledge and pleasure, he concluded that maybe life had no meaning. It is just an endless cycle of events -- birth, death, planting, plucking up, etc. (Ecc. 3:1-f). Man takes his turn in the program and that is that. This response to the disappointments brought on by affluency is not uncommon. Remember the hippie generation? “Mom and Dad spoiled me with things, and I wasn't happy. Now I don't want anything. I don't want to be anything. It's all worthless.” It is a sad attitude. Solomon well captures the conclusion to such reasoning: “Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yet, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun” (Ecc. 4:2-3). If life means nothing, then it is a shame that we are part of the scene. Is there more to life than eating, sleeping, working, and all the other day to day activities? Or is that it? Sometimes it is easy to think so. Let's look closer.

Solomon's life has been spent in vanity. Though he had wisdom and riches far beyond all other men, these things did not provide the answers for which he had been searching. Now it is time to listen to God (Ecc. 5:1-2). Man can stumble around forever, looking futilely for answers (Ecc. 8:17). God has answers for what is otherwise incomprehensible to man (Ecc. 5:8; 7:14). Furthermore, God has the answer for what it's all about. Notice Solomon's inspired conclusion: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13). Whatever else we have or do, if we fail here, we've failed our purpose. “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).