It can be a dangerous thing to be intelligent enough to see the vanity, the emptiness, of everything in this life. Solomon was given the wisdom to see it, and his wisdom would have driven him insane if the Lord hadn’t rescued him. Many a person who sees this world’s emptiness and vanity has fallen into the deep ditch of depression and turned to such things as drunkenness and drugs for relief. But it is so much better to turn to Jesus instead.
A depressed person looks at a lawn that needs mowing and says, “What’s the use of mowing it? It’s just going to grow back,” or “What’s the use of washing clothes? They are just going to get dirty again.” And if depression completely takes control of them, they may even ask such things as, “What’s the use of eating? I’m just going to get hungry again.” That may sound strange to some of you, but millions of people have struggled, or are struggling now, with such thoughts. An awareness of the complete emptiness of things in this life has driven multitudes into such depths of despondency that they have even come to hate being alive in a world like this and have killed themselves.
Solomon’s observations about this life sound so pessimistic that some biblical commentators say he was suffering from depression. He was not; he just saw earthly life the way it really is, since man fell into sin and was cursed. Thinking Solomon was depressed, however, is an easy conclusion to reach if one misses the other, more important part of his message. In fact, if you miss Solomon’s main point, then reading his Ecclesiastes can actually make you feel depressed!
In the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks about the wind endlessly coming and going, coming and going, and then he speaks about the cycle of rain falling, flowing to the sea, and then returning to the sky, only to fall to earth and start the process again. He talks about the futile cycle of people being born, living, and dying, and then another generation coming to live and die, and so, the pointless cycle is continued, generation after generation. Solomon’s summary of everything on earth was that it was all futile because it was just “for a time”. And that is true, except for the fact that God chose to come be a part of this vain world with us and show us how to live above the futility Solomon felt.
God is altogether a God of relationships, and from that, we learn what is not futile, and not useless: our relationships with one another and with Him. It matters how we make others feel, and it matters a lot. There is nothing useless about kindness, patience, love, faithfulness, and the other godly qualities that enable us to bless the lives around us. A godly person does not make another person’s life harder or less pleasant by getting depressed and letting his own life “go to pot”. He cares enough about his neighbor to keep his yard and his house in order. It may be frustrating for you to have to mow the yard again (and so soon!), but that’s not the point. The point is, how will it make your neighbor feel if you take care of your yard? Or, how will they feel if you do not?
A godly person cares enough about how he makes his family feel to do his part around the house. He does whatever he needs to do to make the lives of those around him happier, and to make them feel valued. He encourages; he helps; he stays close to Jesus so that everything he does and says, or even the way he looks at people, helps them on their way. The person who lives in the love of God lives an exciting life, not a depressed one. He loves people the way God does, and when we love people the way God loves them, we really live, aware that every single thing we do matters because everything we do touches someone else’s life. An old hymn that I learned from saints now gone has this wise exhortation in it:
Every act you perform is a seed to someone,
For the influence will never die.
Then, be careful each day, what you do, what you say,
For you’ll meet it again, by and by.
When we see what Solomon really saw, that this life has a very important point, we do not waste our lives wallowing in depression and frustration at the useless cycle of everything. We can acknowledge that Solomon was right when he said of things in this world, “Useless, useless, all is useless”. At the same time, the people in this world are important to our Creator, and we will give an account to God for every word we speak to them, but more importantly, how we speak to them; and for every deed we do, but more importantly, how we do it. Each moment of your life is filled with opportunity to sow good seed into another’s life. The very expression on your face, your whole body language, says something to those around you about what you think of them, and you will reap what ever kind of seed you sow many times over. Be eager to sow the kind of seed that makes others feel valued and loved.
What kind of seed are you sowing? Or, let me ask that question this way: How do you make those around you feel?
My father told me that depression is hatred, turned inward instead of turned on people. If that is true, then the opposite of depression is love turned outward instead of toward yourself. Solomon felt the hatred, turned inward, that this vain world makes one feel, and he did struggle with a time of depression, even saying at one point, “I hated life” (Eccl. 2:17). But he said that before he fully realized the wonder and the thrill of life itself, of having the precious opportunity to live and do good! God rescued Solomon from depression by letting him see that each moment presented him with the chance to do something good, and to be blessed for it.
Solomon made a list of the events on earth that are forced to repeat themselves because they are cursed with time. These are some of Solomon’s most famous words, though his meaning is almost never fully understood:
1. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5. A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6. A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Solomon’s conclusion, just a few verses later, was as simple as his wisdom was profound:
12. I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.
So, according to Solomon, as far as the ordinary events of this life are concerned, “there is no good in them” - and this list even includes the time of peace and the time of love! The only value Solomon found in any of these earthly events is the good that we do for one another while we are going through them!
Get excited! You are still alive! Take advantage today of your fleeting opportunity to do good for others. Don’t waste your life depressed about the uselessness of earthly things, but spend your time concentrating on the good you can do for the people you know. If you do that, you will find that nothing is more exciting and interesting than the life that God has given to you! Don’t grow old with regrets! Your life is now, and your opportunity is here, just waiting for you to take hold of it and make something of it.
Lastly, let me reiterate the point that the true measure of our deeds is not so much the details of what we have done or not done, or said or not said, but how we have made others feel. The hearts of the people around us will always be the truest indicators of the quality of our lives. How have you made the people in your life feel today?