Yesterday, we began a sermon series on the book of Ecclesiastes, which notoriously begins: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” The book is a journey to find meaning in life. It leads us to ask: Is there any point to this life? Is there any way to live a life that is truly satisfying and of lasting significance?
And the answer, again and again, is, “All is vanity.” Or meaningless (as the NIV translates the term).
Perhaps the best explanation of this is given by a British theologian from the last century. He wrote: “All life is vanity in this sense, that it is unable to give us the key to itself…. Life has lost the key to itself.” (J. Stafford Wright)
We look to many things to provide this “key” to life, to finally give us satisfaction and significance—success at work, a spouse, children, a new community, a promotion or raise, starting a business, a perfectly balanced schedule, a new diet, etc. And every time, we are let down and reminded that life is “full of weariness,” “an unhappy business,” and a “striving after the wind.”
But there’s an important aspect of this that we didn’t get to consider much yesterday: this very experience of being disappointed and dissatisfied is part of the key to life!
The well-known quote from C.S. Lewis is helpful: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
Our desires for satisfaction and significance are real, meaningful and even good. The answer to being continually dissatisfied is not to get rid of all desire (as other religions teach). Neither is the answer to go on thinking there is something out there that will finally satisfy us, so we must keep searching (as our culture tends to teach).
Rather, through our very unmet desires, God is trying to tell us something, trying to lead us to “the real thing,” the key, the answer, the point of it all. The point and meaning of life is not to be satisfied through whatever means we wish (is it not obvious that such efforts are no more successful than trying to harness the wind?).
Rather, the point and meaning of life is to trust, rest and rejoice in our Creator and Savior God. And in our current state, part of learning to do this is dealing with dissatisfaction all around us. We have a constant reminder that we are not home yet, that we are not whole yet. God will yet bring a satisfying consummation to his work.