Get up. Stretch. Yawn. Scratch. Pull on some clothes. Get coffee. Turn on the news. Shower. Eat breakfast. Brush teeth. Shower. Work from home. Rinse. Repeat.
That’s about it. My morning routine. Of course, the “work from home” part has a lot of variety in it but that is essentially how every day starts. Yours is probably very similar. Day after day it is the same thing. After some weeks, many months, or a lifetime of routine one could ask, “Is this all there is?” Is life little more than the instructions on a shampoo bottle: rinse and repeat?
Yesterday an article appeared on the CBC.ca website (https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/good-news-for-nihilists-life-is-meaningless-after-all-say-philosophers-1.6036427) which focused on a recent study regarding the meaning of life. The authors of this study come to the conclusion that life is meaningless. Or, perhaps more accurately, has no inherent meaning to it. Each person assigns their own meaning and purpose to their experience. The common ground shared by all humanity is that we have life.
Nihilism - a broad category of philosophy that includes the belief that life is meaningless - is discussed by Solomon in his book called Ecclesiastes. Anyone who has been around me for any length of time knows how much I love Ecclesiastes. Solomon is right - life is meaningless if all we have is life “under the sun.”
Words Matter: Purpose.
Can we really embrace life without meaning or purpose? Is it enough to get up every morning, do our routine, and then just “rinse and repeat” for the rest of our lives?
No, it isn’t. We are hard wired to live with purpose. Our ability to understand and complete that is distorted because of sin. The passion is still there. We long for fulfillment, satisfaction, connection, and to be a part of something bigger. We need to know that what we are and what we accomplish somehow matters. Solomon realized life was a gift from God:
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (Ecc 2:24-25 NIV)
. . . everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil-- this is God's gift to man. (Ecc 3:13 ESV)
But this is an incomplete picture. Life is more than just working hard and playing hard. There more. Solomon also states that much of life is lived in mystery - we don’t understand God’s purposes - so that we will remember that He alone is God:
Be not rash with your mouth,
nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God,
for God is in heaven and you are on earth.
Therefore let your words be few. (Eccl. 5:2 ESV)
Consider what God has done:
Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future. (Eccl. 7:13-14 NIV)
As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother's womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things. (Eccl. 11:5 NIV)
As the old saying goes, “It isn’t what you know, it is who you know.” That is Solomon’s point. The activities of life - all of them - can be rewarding and fulfilling IF they are lived “above the sun,” that is, through the lens of life as a gift from the Creator God. Meaning and purpose are not found in what we do. Or even who we are. They are found in our reconciled relationship with God and how we express that relationship through what we do and who we are.
We cannot live without purpose. We cannot live without hope. There are many substitutes that appear to satisfy those needs (read Solomon’s summary in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes). Most of those things - even the ones that violate God’s moral character - can bring temporary relief. Solomon concludes, though, that lasting satisfaction is sourced in life lived with God. This is not faith as an “add-on.” It is life saturated with the knowledge that all God has created is good; even the worst moments of our human experience have purpose in the sight of God. As Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant it for evil; God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).
This does not necessarily make life easier. Problems don’t just dissovle. The struggles are real. But with the knowledge that God is at work even when hidden and that He is using us to accomplish His purposes we can continue to plod, - rinse, repeat - day after day because no moment, no day, no event is meaningless or purposeless. Our limited understanding does not hinder a limitless God.
Whether times are good or ties are bad, consider this; God has made one as well as the other. Whether we find pleasure in these moments or not we can find the satisfaction that God is always at work.