Ecclesiastes 1:2 "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." (NIV version) and Ecclesiastes 1:14, 17-18 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is futility and striving after the wind...to know wisdom...is also striving after the wind. Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge, increasing pain.
Rather totally pessimistic about everything, isn't the Speaker?
But there is some superficial truth, I suppose to his nihilism. When I was a young Christian fundamentalist growing up in a small village in Nebraska--before I had gone to several universities, read extensively, suffered tragedy, lived in various places in the world, met humans with totally contrary worldviews, etc.--I didn't understand this hopeless wail.
I thought I understood life and God and the world. However, I was ensconced in much illusion and some delusion, though I didn't know it.
So I was happy and productive and filled with hopes and dreams. Aren't most kids, before the harsh realities of life wear us down?
But even after some very tough times, I still wouldn't have identified with the Speaker's utter feeling of futility, because I had a secure foundation in my faith in Christ.
My faith in God gave me a deep spiritual life. Thank God, I didn't live on the surface of life chasing after this world's glitter or, worse, its glut.
But then tragedies came...
And the worst one of all is when I discovered at 17 years of age that most Christian leaders for 1,700 years (beginning with Augustine) had claimed that God doesn't love most people, that infants are "in essence, evil," etc.
I battled against this horrific version of Christianity for most 50 years, until I finally realized to my deepest self that Christianity can't be true, that the Good News version I heard as a kid and young teen was a delusionary aberration.
Well, you get the point...
And now at 62, after doing spiritual battle against Augustinian-Reformed theology, and for so many years against inner failings and testings, and destructive worldviews, trying to help others caught in confusion and dysfunction and sin, and grieving over unanswered prayers, and experiencing deep heartache, I, too, understand what the Speaker means when he finds even wisdom to be a striving after the wind.
And what do we do, when even more and more modern Quakers are supporting Augustinian-Reformed thinkers or at the opposite extreme, claiming that there is no Ultimate Meaning or Purpose to existence?
Why do so many leading Christians now and in the past adamantly support theological determinism which claims the vast majority of us humans are preordained to eternal torment/damnation?
And why are so many modern Friends, exactly contrary, denying that God even exists?
It's so much like the horrific wall in Herman Melville's conundrummed short story, "Bartleby."
And then there are the everyday heartaches, trials, and tribulations...
And when a certain political figure, President Barrack Obama, is elected on the theme of hope, but then reverses many of his solemn pledges and ideals.
And when the natural world heaves, and the striving of hurricane winds and drought and disease and more disasters kill millions.
Yet the vast majority of leading Muslim, Christian, and New Age thinkers claim God planned and foreordained all that evil!
Even most Atheists, too, claim that all horrific human choices for slaughter and rape and rapine, and all natural disasters were determined at the moment of the Big Bang!
We humans are only "illusions," "wet robots," "puppets," etc.
So much nihilism in human philosophy.
No doubt, someone will point out that this is the way life has always been--tragic, brief, and short.
And, no doubt, the person is correct. That is why Ecclesiastes came to be written by a Jew living about 250 B.C., because so many of the promises of God in the Torah and the Prophets and in Proverbs and the Psalms hadn't come true.
Where had the Psalmist been hiding that he could claim, "I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread (Psalm 37:25)?
So sometimes, like millions of others at present, or in the past, I too drown in the abyss of meaninglessness, plummet for days down into the bottomless pit of despair.
If as the Speaker emphasizes through most of the book, we only have this life, we then are only like a live dog versus billions of dead lions and dead dogs who have gone before us.
Is not this life then a senseless striving after the wind?
An emptiness and meaninglessness like a transient vapor--here and then gone?
This is where Paul's statement in the New Testament shocked contradictorily and was life-saving: "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21) until I realized finally that it can't be true.
As I teen, I loved the first part of that verse. Jesus was my ideal, my hero, my best friend.
As for the latter part, I couldn't see Paul's view at all. But now many years later, past innumerable struggles and heartaches, I can see how, for Paul who suffered much, that Heaven did beckon.
But now I realize that there is no afterlife, that religion is mostly delusion.
Thankfully, however, I do hope in God yet--that despite all those tragic details which I briefly explained.
I do hope with all of my brief finite self, that there is Meaning and Purpose in our existence even though we humans don't know what it is beyond seeking to live compassionately and to support human rights and justice...
To seek the Good, the True, the Reasonable, and the Beautiful
in the Light,