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FAITH: All Is Vanity

A column from Castlegar pastor Junior Spooner
Junior Spooner is the pastor of Kinnaird Church of God.

Ecclesiastes has long puzzled readers, the most common question asked: What does it mean? I was once told this question is fitting for any Biblical text. I find Ecclesiastes quite calming and assuring, often using its wisdom at services for the celebration of life.

Qohelet, its writer, positions himself as one who has seen and done it all, ultimately concluding that everything is vanity. The Hebrew word hebel, used 38 times in Ecclesiastes, encapsulates vanity, mist, vapour, smoke, absurdity, paradox, futility, breath, shadow, wind, among a variety of other meanings. It includes the idea of valuelessness and conveys the sense of fleeting, transitory, nothingness and emptiness. Qohelet explores how work, wisdom, righteousness, wealth, prestige, pleasure, youth and even life itself are all fleeting — they are a “chasing after the wind” (Eccl.1:14), and “meaningless” (Eccl. 2:11).

Consider for example this observation: (Eccl. 9:11) “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” How could this be anything other than hebel?

The book’s somber reflections are not those of a pessimist, but of one who is deeply contemplative and shockingly reverent. He critiques self-sufficiency and proposes a life founded on reverence for God and His divine order. Its readers are encouraged to find joy in life itself, as a gift from God (Eccl. 2:13).

In essence, the book concludes, life is hebel apart from God. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Eccl. 12:13–14)

What do you think?