Reality Check | Family Devotional | Constant Source Weekly
This year we are publishing the main section of a current issue of Constant Source Weekly to our blog each month. Each blog entry will include the main commentary for that week’s issue, questions to help you reflect and internalize the lesson, and connection points to help you engage with your family in conversations about the things you are learning about God. It is our hope that this would be a year where more families around the world prioritize seeking Christ together and would exhibit His life and love to those around them. If you want to take a look at last month’s issue, check out our post entitled Lessons from Childlike Faith
(Every Constant Source Weekly is inspired by four pieces of Scripture from all different parts of the Bible. One of those texts becomes the main foundation for the lesson and is interwoven throughout. Start by reading the text linked above.)
(Every Scripture reading is paired with a commentary section that explains the core themes of the passage, discusses the way the reading informs our faith, and helps interconnect all parts of the Bible. Read that next below.)
When you get done reading from the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes, things feel a little bleak. The author does some deep and intentional soul searching and realizes that the things that most of us pursue in this life are ultimately meaningless in the face of death. Upon a surface-level read, this introduction to the book of Ecclesiastes can seem like quite a pessimistic view on life, but in truth, the author is inviting us to shift our perspective, so that we see things as they truly are, pass on the things that are meaningless, and pursue that for which we were created.
Due to the formation of the lectionary, this is the only week that Ecclesiastes is included in our readings. So while the passage we read is merely the beginning of the book, we are going to survey the entire book and distill some of the key points from this Old Testament text.
To begin, let’s briefly discuss where Ecclesiastes fits into the meta-narrative, or the overarching story, of the Bible. Ecclesiastes is considered to be wisdom literature along with the books of Job and Proverbs. As we’ve talked about at length in regards to both of these texts, wisdom literature provides an outlook or worldview for the way that we interact and inhabit the world. The book of Job reminds us that God is a God of restoration and is at work through the power of the Holy Spirit in us, though we don’t always understand God’s actions. Proverbs then takes a deep dive into the way we understand the Holy Spirit as an embodiment of God’s wisdom working in us and through us in the world. Ecclesiastes then offers a reality check as Christ followers begin to realize that living into true wisdom often means prioritizing things that are quite countercultural. As is seen in verse 1 of Ecclesiastes, our guide is referred to as the teacher, some translations call him the preacher, and many theologians attribute this literature to King Solomon. Yet, due to the content on which the author is teaching and some of the nuance found in the Hebrew word for teacher, a dear friend and mentor of mine refers to the author as a philosopher, which I think overlays the perfect connotation regarding the way Ecclesiastes should be approached. Ecclesiastes is asking the philosophical question, “what’s the point?” Which helps each of us to evaluate the purpose behind that which we pursue.
So diving into our reading from chapters 1 and 2, there is a word that shows up over and over again demanding an interpretation, as it is foundational for that which the philosopher is trying to help us understand. In our reading from the NRSV, the word is “vanity.” Other Bible translations use the word “meaningless.” Both of these words offer up an imperfect picture of the underlying Hebrew word that is integral to the philosopher’s argument. This Hebrew word is “hevel”, which means vapor. While a word like meaningless tends to connote an idea of worthlessness, hevel is truly trying to get at the idea of something being fleeting or momentary in as much as being present then gone in what seems like an instant. In verse 14, the philosopher further defines hevel by comparing it to chasing after the wind. Throughout Ecclesiastes, the philosopher names multiple things like his work or his accumulation of wealth and calls it hevel. Why? Because the philosopher is beginning to realize that success, wealth, and popularity are all fleeting; they are here now and might be gone tomorrow. Therefore, time spent in pursuit of these things is ultimately meaningless.
These observations may seem rather pessimistic, but they are grounded in the philosopher’s survey of the world. In Ecclesiastes 2, we begin to see a phrase pop up that becomes a literary cue for the rest of the book. The phrase is “under the sun,” or “all that is under the sun.” For the philosopher, this phrase refers to the world, specifically that which the philosopher sees or experiences. These are tagged pictures or data points that has led to him believing that all is hevel. Another way to think about these moments might be to think of them as reality checks. When the philosopher looks at the world, he is stunned by his experiences and the experiences of others. And who can blame him? It only takes a few minutes of reading headlines in the news to see that our world is broken and often doesn’t make sense. It is filled with exploitation, greed, destruction, hate, disease, sickness, poverty, and loneliness, none of which were intended by the Creator. If you have ever stood on the edge of the abyss of all of this brokenness and asked, “but what can I do to help?” You are asking the same question as the philosopher. Most of us are overwhelmed by the brokenness, so we turn in and try to figure out how to make things better for ourselves. On an individual level, you may be able to make life comfortable for yourself, but even if you do it honestly, you still aren’t exempt from death. So the conclusion of the philosopher seems just about right; in the midst of it all, our pursuits seem meaningless.
Yet this isn’t the final conclusion to each of our stories. The reason why Ecclesiastes is so important is because it reminds us of who we are, whose we are, and what we are supposed to be about. The philosopher paints this big picture of a broken world and reminds us that in the grand scale of things, all that we do and all that we have are hevel. Yet we are not an accident, and we must remember that our purpose is not found in the things of this broken world but rather in our identity as God’s people, brothers and sisters of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. This is the inheritance that matters. As Christians, our purpose is to continue on in this brokenness, to be bringers of hope and joy to dark places, and to partner in God’s mission of reconciliation and renewal for everything under the sun. The philosopher says it like this, “Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:7,9-10).
We are called to pursue more than the things that culture prizes and to bring joy and hope into this broken world. In the freedom of this reality check, the philosopher invites us to find joy in the simple things, pour ourselves into the work that God has for us, and pursue relationship with God and others above all else. We are called to be present and humble because everything we have is fleeting and tomorrow isn’t promised. May we remember who we are, whose we are, and to be people of joy and hope as we seek Christ’s likeness.
(The reflection section provides prompts to help you think through what God is teaching you and how it applies to the world around you. Take 3-5 minutes to ponder and respond to each question below. We recommend keeping a journal to write in, so that you can revisit it later.)
What fleeting things of this world do you need to take a reality check on in light of our Ecclesiastes passage this week?
When we think through all the brokenness of our world, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Take a moment to ask God to help you be a person of joy and hope in the midst of it all.
The philosopher’s perspective doesn’t give us a free pass to be unengaged in the world or its problems; rather, it provides a different lens of understanding that helps us rethink how to engage. How are you going to apply this new angle to your life?
(This section provides tools and starting points to discuss what you’ve learned and processed through above with your family.)
Pray: “Lord God, help us to remember that our identity is grounded in you, that we are your children, and that you care for us. Help us to focus on the things that really matter like our family and friends and the moments we get with those around us. May we be people of joy, hope, and love in everything we do today. Thank you for loving us. Amen.”
Share: Take some time to talk about Ecclesiastes with your family. Share with them that because it’s part of the Bible’s wisdom literature, it is written to help inform the way that we think about and live our lives. Then share a realization that you’ve had as you’ve reflected on Ecclesiastes this week.
Wonder: Explain that Ecclesiastes does a really good job of helping us realize the true importance of things. Try to think of one or two times that something seemed really important at the moment but ended up not being as important as you thought. Then talk about some of the things that are truly important and should be things we focus on.
Audio Option via the Constant Source Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/constant-source-podcast/id1470800487
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