The Part Where the Bible Flirts with Nihilism

Ecclesiastes 1-2 and Galatians 1

Often I think that mowing the lawn is pointless. Why do we mow lawns? Who decided for all of us that it is just something we have to do? Wouldn’t the grass and weeds exist happily without being cut down every week during the warmer months? How does it really benefit me or anyone to mow the lawn? Also, it’s time consuming, and costs money for gas and to maintain the mower.

Yet, I cave to societal expectations and take reasonable care of my lawn. It isn’t so bad. Often it is enjoyable, and can be therapeutic or meditative. It’s a chance to sort out my thoughts. But still, there are so many things on the list of things I’d rather be doing.

We could all come up with lists of what we think is pointless. It would be an easy project. The harder project would be to see what is left over. What actually matters? What has true significance?

This is the question brought to the table by the book of Ecclesiastes. Our Qoheleth (Hebrew for teacher) is beginning to let us know about all the things he thinks are pointless, and there are a lot of them. All the work we do is pointless, because you can’t take the results with you when you die. Someone else gets all of it (2:18). The pursuit of wisdom is pointless because “in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow” (1:18). The pursuit of pleasures is pointless too, like chasing after the wind. He tried all of them, and gained nothing from it.

Are these things bad? The teacher doesn’t say that. Surely working is something we have to do, otherwise we can’t provide for ourselves or our families. Wisdom and knowledge are positive things. Isn’t it beneficial to understand things? Pleasure is a good thing given a few healthy boundaries. We all need opportunities to appreciate and enjoy the good things in life.

The teacher does mention a few things that might be worthwhile: eating, drinking, and enjoying your work. They are from the hand of God, he says. Also on the list of not-so-pointless things is pleasing God. This is a good start. If we think about it long enough, maybe we can figure out what the essence of something meaningful is. Could we decide what is meaningful or not based on a set of criteria? I currently don’t have a good method of deciding this, but I’d like to get better at recognizing what is meaningful and what is not.

What if we spent more time thinking about and pursuing things that are truly meaningful? Doesn’t that allow us to focus our efforts on things that will actually benefit us and others? If only it was easy to know what those things are. We constantly have to prioritize the many options for how we could spend our time, whether we consciously think about it or not. The teacher is not giving us a complete guide for what should take priority, but he is challenging us to think about it.

Looking at Galatians 1, we might be able to pick out a few things the apostle Paul thinks are pointless. Perverting the gospel, being a people-pleaser, persecuting the church, and climbing up the ladder of Judaism all could make his list. What does Paul think is worthwhile? Serving and proclaiming Christ! As we continue on through Ecclesiastes and Galatians, maybe we will get more insights into what these authors think is important, and by doing so, improve our understanding of what God thinks is important.

Seek ye first…

Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ecclesiastes 1-2 and Galatians 1

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