What does it mean to live a good life? Solomon writes from the vantage point of an elderly man and offers wisdom on how to live. So, let us consider how to live a good life.
As he looks backwards, he says in Eccl. 1:2-4, “Meaningless! Meaningless! says the teacher. Utterly meaningless. Everything is meaningless. What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” He repeats this phrase 24 times. In other words, life is not easy to figure out. It is in fact an enigma. He characterizes life as “chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 1:14). We try to get a hold of it but we cannot, which explains why he thinks life is meaningless.
People have tried to find meaning in life through various avenues. Some look to knowledge and sage wisdom. Some people seek pleasure as a way of life—laughter, wine, self-indulgence. That too is meaningless. Some seek achievements—working hard and making money—as a way of life. But at the end of the day, these will get us nowhere. No matter how hard we try, we have no control over our lives. This kind of scepticism is what Solomon calls life “under the sun”. It sounds pessimistic because it looks at life in this world without reference to God. Deep down, we have this vacuum in our hearts, a desire to know how everything fits together (Eccl. 3:11). But we lack God’s eye point of view on the world. We are not God. But this is not the sum total of Solomon’s message. The preacher is not a pessimist. He does not despair over the emptiness of life.
Where do we find joy and meaning in life? The wisdom writer is appealing to us to seek God. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14). Only then will we be able to experience true joy, in spite of the challenges of life. The meaning of life is found in God, who is in control, even though we may not always understand his ways.
Our joy comes from the belief that life is a gift from God (read Eccl. 2:24-26). It’s not that Christians are exempted from suffering. It is possible to live with joy and meaning in spite of the injustices, contradictions, uncertainties, and all the disappointments. The message of Ecclesiastes isn’t that earthly joys are worthless, but that they are not ultimate. When we recognize that no earthly goods are ultimate—our careers, achievements, and possessions—we can stop treating them like they are. When we own the fact that death will take everything from us, we are free to enjoy the small things in life for what they are.