This World is Absurd and Futile
“Vanity of Vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labor in which he labors under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 1: 2-3
“All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” Ecclesiastes 1: 8
“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” Ecclesiastes 1: 14
According to the footnote in the New King James translation of the Bible, the word used here for “vanity” can also be translated as “absurdity, futility, frustration, nonsense, and so throughout the book [of Ecclesiastes]”. The word is used 28 times in the 12 chapters of Ecclesiastes. In the original Hebrew, the word is “hebel”, and it means “vapor, breath, emptiness”.
The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible is a difficult one to fully grasp. Obtaining wisdom is not a quick and easy task, but it takes time and meditation to absorb the depth of these truths. I am certain that this book leaves many readers confused and tempted to just pass it off as some meaningless, outdated, musings from the Old Testament.
I submit to you that understanding the wisdom and the view of the world that Solomon puts forth in his scriptural writings is critically important. The book of Ecclesiastes was included as part of the Holy Scriptures for a reason; it has a purpose; this is the inspired word of God and part of His revelation to mankind. Remember also that King Solomon was, according to the Bible, the wisest man who ever lived; based on this fact alone we can’t just write off what he is saying.
At first glance, the idea that “all is vanity” or that everything in our world is empty and futile may seem contrary to popular thinking or even foolish to most people. We must remember, though, that as Christians we need to establish our world view based on the revealed word of God, taking into account the entire overview of the history of creation as shown to us in the Bible. We also must put aside the previous views of this world that came from our godless past, produced by the evil world system. Our minds and our thinking must be renewed and transformed. We must now have a spiritual mindset and viewpoint.
In our current western culture, there is a proclivity towards the positive and a rejection of anything negative. At the root of this, people who are without the hope that has been offered through the promises of God in His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, have difficulty finding a reason to live if they embrace the reality of an empty life that ends in death. It is a grave danger, though, to embrace a false, fabricated view of reality, only because it feeds a need for a positive hope. As Christians, we must hold fast to the truth, knowing that it comes from our Creator and Father in heaven.
There is a critical importance to recognizing the vanity, futility, and absurdity of this world, as Solomon observed thousands of years ago. This viewpoint is a hard one to accept since it goes directly against the grain of the secular human philosophy and evolutionary progression that is so prevalent in our world.
Let us look for a moment at the larger picture of our situation as followers of Jesus Christ. We are told that we must die with Christ in order to live with Him. We are told that our old self was crucified with him. We are told that we must die to this world and to this world system.
“We know that our old self was crucified with Him……but if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” Romans 6: 6, 8
“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations.” Colossians 2:20
How can we truly die to this world if deep down in our subconscious mind we are still embracing the false idea that this world is fruitful, satisfying, and offers hope? Unless we fully accept the reality that this world has been cursed by God and subjected to futility, we will not be able to fully die to this world and live with our hearts anchored in heaven. Recognizing the futility of this physical world system and the vanity of all that it produces is a critical part of being transformed into a spiritual Christian.
Here is the wisdom that is contained in our need for a death to this world: only by death to the physical can spiritual life come. It is seemingly paradoxical but we must die to live. We must be negative to be truly positive!
If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that deep inside we hesitate to embrace the fact that this world is absurd and futile. It is so hard to embrace the fact that everything we do amounts to nothing in the end and is in vain. Again I say that we must look at this in the light of God’s revelation of truth, with the eyes of faith. We have another hope that the world does not see and requires faith to take hold of.
Let’s look closer at a portion of Scripture in the New Testament that deals with this topic. It’s in Romans Chapter 8, after a discussion about our adoption as sons of God and the inheritance we are assured of and the glory that we will share with Him. I want to use the Amplified version because it drives home the idea that God has purposely caused this world to be subject to futility:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the gory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us! For [even the whole] creation (all nature) waits expectantly and longs earnestly for God’s sons to be made known [waits for the revealing, the disclosing of their sonship]. For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him who so subjected it – [yet] with the hope that nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” Romans 8: 18-21
In the quote above, in the phrase “For the creation was subjected to frailty, the word “frail” is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “easily led into evil“. By the way, in some versions the word frailty is replaced by “vanity” or “futility”. The main point, as explicitly stated in these verses, is that it was the will of God to subject the entire creation to a condition of futility. This was part of the curse. We don’t really know what the original condition of the world was before the curse came upon it, but we know it was better than our current situation.
I think it is safe to say that the condition of the future heaven, with the curse removed, will be a place that is NOT futile or vain or absurd or frustrating or nonsensical. Rather, it will be satisfying and with purpose and beyond what we can imagine, perfect for us in every way.
Continuing with the quote from Romans 8, we see that Paul too exhorts his readers to embrace the reality of this future hope:
“We know that the whole creation [of irrational creatures] has been moaning together in the pains of labor until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves too, who have and enjoy the firstfruits of the [Holy] Spirit [a foretaste of the blissful things to come] groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies [from sensuality and the grave, which will reveal] our adoption (our manifestation as God’s sons). For in [this] hope we were saved. But hope [the object of] which is seen is not hope. For how can one hope for what he already sees? But if we hope for what is still unseen by us, we wait for it with patience and composure.” Romans 8: 22 – 25
Solomon’s observation that this world is absurd and futile, and that all of man’s work is in vain, is an accurate assessment of reality. We must reject the past lies and peel back the imaginary, fantasy view that we have painted for ourselves to override the painful truth of this world’s absurdity and futility. We must also recognize that God has subjected the world to this futility for a purpose, as part of the curse that was the result of Adam’s sin. We must also recognize that we don’t belong here, but we have a future hope in heaven that is waiting for us.
To be clear, I am not saying that we should stop all that we are doing because it is all for nothing. I am saying that we should behave like aliens and strangers in this world, and as travelers who are just passing through with our hearts set on the treasure that is waiting for us in heaven.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6: 19-20 (the words of Jesus)
There will be no thieves in heaven and our things in heaven will not corrode or decay!
I would suggest that you read the entire book of Ecclesiastes and pray that God opens your eyes to all of the wisdom there. I will leave you with the conclusion that Solomon ends the book with:
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments. For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14