So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 2, verse 17.
Some of the most unhappy people I know are humanists. They seek their fulfillment from work, from relationships, from life, from knowledge, from anything. They put their faith in mankind and the revelry of being human, of experience. If that’s your only hope in life, to get those things, then congratulations! You’ll likely get them. They won’t make you happy, but you’ll get them. Most likely, that is.
See, those are some low expectations. They really are! They aren’t necessarily bad ones, but they’re very short sighted, very small. The bar has been set pretty low. You can throw yourself into your work very easily, and sometimes that is even good therapy. It’s necessary because let’s face it: we need to earn a living. But if work is all you live for, is that enough to keep you from hating life?
When you look to relationships to make you happy, is THAT enough to keep you from hating life? I know people who are validated by their relationships; I’m sure you do too. They’re people who go from friendship to friendship, relationship to relationship, even bed to bed looking for fulfillment, someone to care. How do you think they feel inside when they admit to themselves that this latest relationship was no better than the previous? Major life-hating usually ensues.
Experiences: what about them? I used to resent it when I was the new younger guy in a group. Whether it was school, work, military service, or anything, I used to resent it when people with longer tenure made me feel small. I allowed them to do it by accepting their premise that they had already ‘been there, done that’ much better than I, the newbie, ever would or could. It make me feel tiny, unworthy. And it drove me as well: drove me to DO things, to experience them.
Experiencing new things in life can be a wonderful blessing, but not when you’re simply in it to check things off some list to satisfy other people who really didn’t care much to begin with.
Knowledge. There is so much to know in this life and we are always learning because there’s always something new to learn, some new angle from which to view life. What good is it without belief in He who is the foundation of all understanding?
Hatred of life is the end game when the things in life are all you base yours on. If we work so hard looking for things to make us happy, is it any surprise when they grieve us instead? Maybe the problem isn’t so much the ‘thing’ we’re striving for. Maybe it’s that we’re striving for it in the wrong way?
Mind you, work, relationships, life, knowledge, and experience: they’re good. By and of themselves, they can be very good things. But without understanding that the clay is simply wet dirt without the potter, then all the ‘things’ in life are meaningless, a chasing after what’s already blown away.
Today is Memorial Day in America. It’s the day set aside to honor war dead, remembering how they died and why. Did they hate life when they left it? Were things going along well until the war? Did they realize that everything in life, even a heroic death, is meaningless on its own? In the end, none of these questions or answers matters. What matters is remembering how they lived, why they died, and the words from John 15 that ‘greater love has no man than that he would lay down his life for his friends.’ That is anything but meaningless.
And that is the missing piece to the verse, to all the book in fact. You know it, but it bears repeating again because we spend so much of life chasing after the wind. We each, even the most devout and faithful of us, spend our lives chasing after things that we think will make us happy when it is the truth of God that we believe with our hearts that holds the key to happiness. It’s the easiest thing in the world to get distracted and forget that simple truth; it’s as old as Genesis.
Some of the most unhappy people I know are humanists, taking their pleasure in life from the things of life itself. In my experience, most of them end up seeing this as a waste of time. Some of the most selfless people in history are buried in long rows of stone markers; our national cemeteries are full of them. Today is Memorial Day. Let’s honor our freedom to contemplate these things by thanking God for them, for the sacrifices of those who gave up living for us, and for the chance to bury our unhappiness with the past. From now on, let’s live.