Ecclesiastes and Vanity


Salvete, omnes!

At the ver beginning of Ecclesiastes, our author says that “all is vanity”.

Many today interpret this work as Solomon telling us that, without God all is vanity. However, the introduction to this book simply states that “all is vanity”, no qualifications. Indeed, when Solomon is apparently writing this book, he has already come to the conclusion he reaches at the very end; he is not in the process of coming to that conclusion. So, one would expect that hewould have started out his book with something like “all is vanity without God” instead of simply stating that “all is vanity”, period.

Interestingly, it appears that our author makes references to God (and, implicitly, a knowledge of Him) throughout this book, so, even when he says “all is vanity” or as he is “experimenting”, as it were, in life, he does not seem to be without some knowledge of God.

Perhaps our author means, even if we know ther is a God and even have some (perhaps imperfect) knowledge about Him, we must look higher than just the material aspects of life. Still, even after he has discovered this, Solomon still seems to say that “all is vanity”, pure and simple.

How do we reconcile all this? Can this book really be said to be about life being in vain without God, or, at least, without a proper understanding of His Ways?


Ecclesiastes is in the running for the oddest book in the Bible. It seems nihilistic, anti-theological, and hopeless, especially about eternal life.

I think one of the keys to understanding the book comes from the very last part of it (12:9-14) which casts it as a recounting of another’s teaching (which by the way was almost certainly not Solomon himself but someone using his name as a literary device… the Hebrew is wildly different from the Hebrew Solomon would have used).



It’s poetry.


It is an existentialist book. American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote: “[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth—and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”

The author’s conclusion is that amid the frivolities of life, reverence and fear of the Lord, and the pursuit of wisdom are ultimately all that we have, as the ebb and flow of life and its sorrows pass us by. Pope John Paul II, in his general audience of October 20, 2004, called the author of Ecclesiastes “an ancient biblical sage” whose description of death "makes frantic clinging to earthly things completely pointless. Earthly things come and go, but the fear of God and His truth are eternal.


In my opinion, I think the answer is yes, life is “really” meaningless without God and a proper understanding of His ways, as revealed to us. Some may have a comfortable life and feel fulfilled but Scripture teaches us the true meaning of life, whatever our circumstances and whatever may be happening to us are oriented towards God, our Father. We believe in eternal life is our destiny and we live in the hope of eternal reward (as opposed to eternal punishment) for living according to God’s teaching, instruction, commands, laws, admonitions, etc.


All is Vanity


It’s an authors attempt at philosophy. He is attempting to understand this existence. Who we are, what we are, etc. It’s place in scripture helps us to understand the thought process of the people from the beginning of ‘history’ to the early church.


Here’s the thing, though: among all of the things that the author attempts to use as an understanding of how life might make sense, does he ever attempt to say that ‘faith in God’ is a possible solution?

Then, if not, wouldn’t we say that his project is (implicitly) trying to make sense of life in terms of purely materialistic considerations? His conclusion, then, is that if that’s all there is to life, then life has no meaning – it’s all futility…


Read Three Philosophies of Life:wink:


Ecclesiastes is a favorite of mine, and I believe that even with God, everything in our world is still vanity.

I think this book coincides with the following:

. . . Many weak and foolish people, say, “See what a good life that man enjoys! He is so rich, so great, so powerful, so distinguished!” But raise your eyes to the riches of Heaven, and you will see that all the riches of this world are as nothing. All are uncertain and even burdensome, for they are never enjoyed without some anxiety or fear. The happiness of man does not consist in abundance of this world’s goods, for a modest share is sufficient for him. The more spiritual a man desires to become, the more bitter does this present life grow for him, for he sees and realizes more clearly the defects and corruptions of human nature. For to eat and drink, to wake and sleep, to rest and labour, and to be subject to all the necessities of nature is a great trouble and affliction to the devout man, who would rather be released and set free from all sin.

The inner life of man is greatly hindered in this life by the needs of the body. Thus, the Prophet devoutly prays that he may be set free from them, saying, “Lord, deliver me from my necessities!” Woe to those who refuse to recognize their own wretchedness, and doubly woe to those who love this miserable and corruptible life! For some cling so closely to it, that although by working or begging they can hardly win the bare necessities, they would yet be willing to live here forever if it were possible, caring nothing for the Kingdom of God.

How crazy and lacking in faith are such people, who are so deeply engrossed in earthly affairs that they care for nothing but material things! These unhappy wretches will at length know to their sorrow how vile and worthless were the things that they loved. But the Saints of God and all the devoted friends of Christ paid little heed to bodily pleasures, nor to prosperity in this life, for all their hopes and aims were directed towards those good things that are eternal. Their whole desire raised them upward to things eternal and invisible, so that the love of things visible could not drag them down. My brother, do not lose hope of progress in the spiritual life; you have still time and opportunity . . .
The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chapter 22 Thomas a Kempis


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