Ecclesiastes: Vanity of Vanities---Western Society is without Meaning

In the article "Justice Roberts Pleads: 'Lie to Me," author C. Edmund Wright wrote, "When the shocking ObamaCare ruling came from the Supreme Court Thursday morning, the reaction from the conservative pundit class started with befuddlement -- then worked through confusion, shock, and of course anger. Later in the day, however, the pundit elites started to furrow their brows and dust off their elbow patches -- and proceeded to try to convince us rubes that we had overreacted. They treated us to all kinds of contorted rationalizations and justifications full of pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook." (American Thinker, June 29, 2012)

While some Conservatives pin their hopes on the claims of pundit elites such as Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Thomas Lifson, and Erick Erickson who claim to see a silver-lining to Roberts ruling, many others angrily reject this view. For them there is hurt and anger arising from yet more incompetance and betrayal by Conservative leadership. They say Roberts drove a stake through the heart of the Constitution, that he has stripped Americans of what little yet remained of their liberties.

"He has ruled in favor of massive, invasive government," said one Conservative.

For much too long now, Americans have been seeking meaning, purpose, and salvation in all the wrong places, resulting in growing fear, hopelessness, despair, anger, anxiety, cynicism, and disillusionment.

Conservatives and Liberals alike look to other men for salvation, and for meaning to wealth, personal power, status, education, prestige, privilege, elitism, power-politics, science, pornography, drugs, party life, finely-toned bodies, and accumulation of possessions.

Ultimately, all of this is vanity of vanity, said Solomon, for what does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?

As used by Solomon, vanity means useless, without profit, a chasing after wind. In his book, "Three Philosophies of Life," Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, observes that Ecclesiastes is the perennially up-to-date book. With clarity and brutal honesty it poses three of the most important of all ethical questions. First, what is the greatest good? Second, is there an afterlife or is there only death? Third, what then is the meaning of life?

Ecclesiates is an existential book about human existence in a spiritually-impoverished secular world.

Alone among premodern books, Ecclesiastes dares to ask the question, "suppose life has no meaning?" Ecclesiastes, said Kreeft, is the book that exposes modernity's greatest fear---the fear of meaninglessness, the dread of Nothingness.

Ecclesiastes addresses the final end, the meaning of life, which for modernity there is no answer but fear of dying, confusion, lostness, nameless anxiety, a terrible sense of standing atop a yawning abyss.

Whereas the Christian West knew and took comfort from the answer to the questions of why men exist and what happens after death, it no longer does because from the time of the Enlightenment it has been falling into ignorance and unbelief. Kreeft notes that as modern Western society grows,

" knows more and more about less and less. It knows about the little things and less about the big things. It knows more about every thing and less about Everything." (Kreeft, pp. 20-21)

Erroneously believing themselves enlightened, scientific and progressive, spiritually impoverished modern Westerners make light of the living God and higher things, and deliberately disregarding what they know to be true, futilely root around in the lower realm, the natural dimension, for meaning and power. And said Solomon, this is vanity of vanity!

The practical result of spiritual impoverishment is a void in which men vainly seek for meaning and purpose. Always seeking but never finding. When higher things disappear, only the despair of meaninglessness, the pleasure principle, hectic diversions, personal power, and toys remain. And all of this said Solomon, is vanity, for it ends only in death. There is always a grinning skull behind everything we do, including both the Conservative and Liberal struggle for control of secular society.

Ecclesiates is modern in the most important way of all. It is wholly secular, empirical, and scientific. The author knows nothing about Jesus Christ and heaven. He is a secular reporter for earth's universal newspaper. His God said Kreeft,

" simply 'nature and nature's God,' the God of our modern establishmentarian religion. He is an empiricist." (p. 22)

Though Ecclesiastes is inspired monologue, God does not speak directly:

"God in his providence has arranged for this one book of mere rational philosophy to be included in the canon of Scripture because this too is divine revelation. It is what Fulton Sheen calls 'black grace' instead of 'white grace;' revelation by darkness rather than by light. In this book God reveals to us exactly what life is when God does not reveal to us what life is. Ecclesiastes frames the Bible as death frames life." (p. 23)

The whole point of Ecclesiastes is stated five times in the first verse (Eccl. 1:2) and thereafter exemplified for twelve chapters. The point is this: without Jesus Christ and higher things, there is no purpose, nor can we know what Truth is. There is only meaninglessness, which itself is death. In this context, all toil is "under the sun" (here in the lower realm) and since everything in this lower realm is "under the sun," then ultimately, our toils are vain because life is meaningless; it always ends in death. What we need more than anything else in the world, a reason to live and a reason to die does not exist, therefore our toils under the sun are vanity of vanity.

Ernest Hemingway's classic story, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," paints a terrifying portait of the utter Nothingness haunting our spiritually-impoverished society "under the sun:"

"It was not fear or dread. It was a Nothing that he knew too well. It was all a Nothing and a man was Nothing too....Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y pues nada. Our nada, who are in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing, full of nothing, nothing is with thee." (pp. 26-27)

Without the living God Jesus Christ and higher things there is Nothing. Life has no purpose and no meaning, nor do our toils under the sun, and this is vanity of vanity!

Ecclesiates is the book we moderns fear more than any other said Kreeft. For it is a,

"...mirror that shows us a great hole, a black spot where our heart ought to be. The microcosm of the self has a Black Hole just like the macrocosm of the universe. What could be more terrifying than this?---to find that there at our heart, where the source of life ought to be (is) instead the source of death?" (p. 31)

Ecclesiastes is the first necessary step toward salvation for our secularized modern world. But the world will not go to the "Great Physician until it admits that it is desperately sick."

Vanity is meaninglessness, the source of death. Eternalized it is Hell. Mystics and resuscitated patients who have caught a glimpse of Hell do not report seeing physical fire and demons with torture-devices but rather "lost souls wandering nowhere in the darkness, with no direction, hope or purpose." And this is both a portrait of our spiritually impoverished society and a far more "terrifying picture of Hell than fire and brimstone." (pp. 31-32)

@Linda Kimball