“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
LIFE IN THIS WORLD IS “VAIN.” That does not mean it is unimportant; it means it is temporary. Whatever we accomplish of a this-worldly nature, it will not last. Whatever work we do while we live, it will be forgotten after we’re gone, if not before then. So our work is like sandcastles. It’s not that we shouldn’t build any; we just shouldn’t be surprised when they wash away.
Sadly, we often try to attach more meaning and permanence to earthly things than they were ever meant to have. We lean more weight upon them than they can support. Take friendships, for example, or even marriage. When we expect from other people a joy that only God can provide, we impose an unfair burden on them and set ourselves up for disappointment. As Oswald Chambers said, “If we try to find lasting joy in any human relationship, it will end in vanity, something that passes like a morning cloud. The true joy of a man’s life is in his relationship to God.”
But we mention human relationships only as an example. The same principle holds true with regard to every other temporal treasure: these things were only meant to be enjoyed for a while, and even while we enjoy them, they were not meant to be our end-all and be-all. Unfortunately, many of us live as if that were the case. Succumbing to the powerful pull of what is “here” and what is “now,” we put tremendous effort into goals that, even if we achieve them, will not turn out to be very tremendous. To borrow Shakespeare’s phrase, we make “much ado about nothing.”
What, then, is the point of this “vain” life? Solomon summed it up succinctly in Ecclesiastes 12:13: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (New King James Version). “Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about” (Contemporary English Version). “Stand in awe of God, obey his orders: that is everything, for every man” (Moffatt). Any way you translate it, the point is basic: only in reverence and obedience to God can we accomplish anything. Without that priority, “all is vanity.”
“To become like Christ is the only thing in the world worth caring for, the thing before which every ambition of man is folly and all lower achievements vain” (John Drummond).