Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless
Cheerful book Ecclesiates: ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’ (Ecclesiastes 1.2). I don’t know about you but I normally turn to the Bible for encouragement, or wisdom or perhaps guidance. I don’t tend to look for a big slice of depression; with cream and a cherry on top, but that’s just what I find in Ecclesiastes.
The writer is rich and successful but is bored with life. He has children but he obviously doesn’t think much of them because he resents leaving his wealth for them to enjoy. He is bitter and twisted, which begs the question, “why have this in the Bible”? Why indeed?
Well for a start, it chimes with how most people feel about life, at least at some point. No matter how positive I want to be, at times life will get me down. Then these passages are strangely comforting. They say to me that I’m not alone, that I at least have company. What’s more, they say that I have God for company because he has allowed Ecclesiastes to be part of the Bible.
I can be depressed and I am still not cut off from God. I can be depressed and there is a passage of the Bible that is not saying to me, ‘cheer up’, or ‘pull yourself together’, or ‘count your blessings’, or all the other well meaning but pointless things people say to those who are depressed. No, I hear words that describe how depression feels, “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’”. That is the reality of depression. No matter how you try, the world remains grey and featureless, and here in this passage I discover that God understands; I discover that God is there in the darkness.
This reassurance is important because most people find it hard to cope with someone who is depressed, and Christians are not exception. There can also be the implication that depression equals a lack of faith, or a refusal to trust in God. But here we have a book of the Bible that deals with depression and deals with it head on.
Ecclesiastes faces down the argument that if you have good things then you shouldn’t be depressed; that you should, “Count your blessings”. The writer of Ecclesiastes has everything, he is king, he is rich, and he is well educated. He has all this and yet, “Everything is meaningless”.
Ecclesiastes is often used to teach the fact that earthly riches do not bring ultimate contentment, before pointing to the need for spiritual riches. This point is true but it is not what Ecclesiastes is about. If it were about this then the author would say so but he does not. Ecclesiastes ends as depressed as it starts – all is meaningless at the end of the book, just as it is at the beginning. No, I believe Ecclesiastes is about depression. It is about a man who has everything and still it is as though the colour, texture, and savour of everything has leached away leaving all grey and tasteless.
With this in mind I don’t think this book should be used to make points about spiritual wealth. It should be taken seriously for what it is. For those who are depressed it should be seen as a lifeline; a way into the Bible and the hope that it can bring. Ecclesiastes brings far more hope than all the platitudes put together.
So if you are prone to depression, then I recommend that you read Ecclesiastes. You may find that it speaks for you. If you are never weighed down by depression then read Ecclesiastes, let it sink into you so that you can better understand and support those who are weighed down.
Ecclesiastes is also valuable when your world falls apart. When you lose someone close to you, or perhaps when your health fails. Ecclesiastes can express what is inside at these times, it can allow me to be honest about how we feel. Ecclesiastes gives me permission to say to God, “Meaningless! Meaningless!’ ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless”. Ecclesiastes allows me to say this without feeling guilty that I’ve let God or anyone else down. Ecclesiastes can lead to the cross, where Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
So, Ecclesiastes – the most miserable of the books of the Bible, but at times it may just be one of the most valuable.