In the last of these blogs through Rachel Jones' book, she takes us to the book of Ecclesiastes: “Most of us aren’t long out of education before we know what it’s like to lose heart in the cycle of the daily grind: eat, sleep, work, repeat”.
One of the most important questions is: Why are we here? What makes my life worthwhile or meaningful? Without God, then we are just "blobs of carbon floating from one meaningless existence to another" - likewise the Teacher of Ecclesiastes laments that life "under the sun" (living without God in the picture) is "meaningless".
Rachel reflects on how, faced with our meaningless, our culture today tries to avoid reflecting on these questions:
“Most of us don’t ask ourselves the uncomfortable Why? question very often, because humans are experts at keeping themselves busy…. Our media-soaked age gives us a constant supply of content to fill our hungry eyes and ears. We’re always looking to entertain ourselves as we mindlessly click on to the next article on the news app, or the next song on our playlist, or the next level on the game on our phone. Even if we’re not entertained, at least we’re distracted from the pitiable meaninglessness of the whole charade. The Teacher gives these distraction tactics a go too. He embarks on a search for meaning: fun times with friends, big nights out…. Countless Tinder hook-ups…. Buying his ‘forever home’… decorating his forever home from his backpacking trip around South-east Asia… climbing the career ladder… negotiating a pay rise… finding fame in his field… But in the end, nothing can distract him enough…. All of his achievements get the same damning verdict… What’s the point?
We are caught between two realities: the fact that death makes our lives in this world ultimately meaningless, and the fact that within us there is a longing for a meaningful life:
“Death makes life meaningless… because there’s nothing we can hold on to. Death unravels all our hard work. Even the things that seem to mean the most – those relationships we treasure, will ultimately be undone by death. Life is meaningless. And yet… all of us find this so hard to accept. We long for our lives to mean something. To paraphrase Beyoncé, I want to do something or leave something that means I leave my footprints on the sand of time – that proves I was here, and that my time on Planet Earth made a difference somehow… There’s something deep within us that refuses to settle for the notion that our existence is insignificant… but in order to find the meaning we crave, we need to find a solution to the problem of the grave”
Rachel pivots to consider how the answer to meaninglessness in death is the gospel: "Whereas the Teacher in Ecclesiastes despaired in the face of death, Jesus is far more than a teacher – he is a Saviour, who calls us to follow him through death"
Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul. Our what can anyone give in exchange for their soul” (Matthew 16:24-26)
This is a difficult passage, but Rachel helpfully explains:
“So often my longing for meaning is really a longing for me to mean something. I want me to be important. I want my life to be significant. So I cling to it, build it, protect it, desperately hoping that somehow it will reach the status of worthwhile. Yet Jesus says I need to lose my life. That means we have to stop trying to carve out a meaningful existence for ourselves by building our reputation or amassing wealth – or even by doing good or bringing happiness to others. We have to repent of putting ourselves at the centre of our own universe and put Jesus there instead… Although the cost is high, the rewards are massive. Lose your life like this, and Jesus guarantees that you will find it. … Death makes life meaningless. But dying to self makes life meaningful...The way that we die to self day by day is by recognising that every detail of our lives has been given to us by God and is to be invested for his glory, not our own….
She finishes by reminding us that Jesus is the Lord of all creation and that the gospel sanctifies all areas of life, meaning the whole world is the arena in which we can meaningfully live, work and play for the glory of God:
It’s not just church stuff which is meaningful either. Everything: work, rest, and play – is made meaningful when we do it for the glory of God. Of course it doesn’t always feel like that. You may not always be able to see meaning as you cycle through the daily grind of eat, sleep, work, repeat. But that’s ok. God sees, and God knows. And one day, once he’s welcomed you home as his good and faithful servant, you’ll be able to see how he wove each little and large investment of gold he’d given you into his great plan – how he used what you did to build his eternity. In a world in which everything else proves meaningless, that’s meaning enough for me”