As we began our study of Ecclesiastes on Sunday we saw that the Preacher provides a gut-level honest assessment of life after Genesis 3. He proclaims that all of our work (toil) to gain anything under the sun post-fall is vanity…futile (Eccl. 1:3, Rom. 8:20). Our only hope is to turn to the one whose work was not futile, but accomplished something beyond our reach, redemption. We must turn to Christ and rest in His complete work.
Sean Douglas O’Donnell offers three primary responses to the futility we all face. These are responses that are often appealed to apart from the only answer, the Gospel. I didn’t have time to share them in the sermon, but thought they would be beneficial to think about. First, they can help us reflect on our lives and our often idolatrous responses. Second, understanding these false hopes can better equip us to engage our lost friends and neighbors with the gospel. O’Donnell says the three responses are escapism, nihilism, and hedonism. Of these responses He wrote:
The Escapist: Some people deal with the bleak reality that Ecclesiastes addresses through escapism—not through drugs or alcohol or sex (although some do that), but through watching the game, going to work, playing with the kids, loving the wife, taking the family vacation, and then watching the game, watching the game, watching the game. Escapism.
The Nihilist: Others are more philosophical about life. They have attempted a stare-down with time and death, and lost; thus, they have come to the end of themselves. Nihilism teaches that life has no objective meaning or intrinsic value. This is the soil from which postmodern thinking has grown…Why continue on if life is meaningless? Why bask in summer sunlight if you’re just a leaf that will soon fall from a tree, only to be raked up and burned?
The Hedonist: Most people are not honest enough to come to the nihilist position. This explains why the philosophy department will always be smaller than the business/economics department. It is also why, instead of becoming nihilistic, most people become hedonistic. They live for pleasure as the ultimate pursuit…We know we are dying, so let’s live life for all it’s got.
If we put on gospel glasses and look at Ecclesiastes 1:3-11 again, we see clearly how what we have in God’s Son transforms a world shrouded in hopeless blackness into a garden of beautiful and brilliant light—or, to change the metaphor, how it changes a buried seed into a budding flower.
We can put it this way: life under the sun is brief and bleak, but life through the Son is eternal and joyful. (pgs. 24-27)