Ecclesiastes as Evangelism
by Jacob Hudgins
“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind”(Eccl 1:14).
Ecclesiastes is a dark and challenging book. The Preacher (presumably Solomon) describes his frustrations with the brevity and uselessness of life and details his (unsuccessful) efforts to find meaning. Because the tone is so different from other parts of Scripture, Christians are often baffled with what to do with Ecclesiastes. Rather than explaining away Solomon’s sad pronouncements, we should try to relate to his exasperation. I would also suggest that—as a secondary application of the book—we could use Ecclesiastes as a tool in evangelism.
Solomon is describing the search for meaning in life without God—and finds life hugely depressing. All people have tried that same experience in one way or another and had similar results.
Solomon discovers that accomplishments and pleasure are pointless without God. He tries to find meaning in wisdom (Eccl 1:17-18), pleasure (2:1-8), and greatness and fame (2:9-11). “All was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun”(Eccl 2:11). Our world continues to tell us that the meaning of life is to have a good time and make a name for ourselves. We continue to find (like Solomon) that this is ultimately empty.
Solomon discovers that life is unfair. “Sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil”(Eccl 2:21). Those tasked with bringing justice fail to do so or are corrupt (Eccl 3:16, 4:1). Even skill is no guarantee of success since “time and chance happen to them all”(Eccl 9:11). We have this nagging sense that things should work out justly, yet life frustratingly rarely does. We are left wishing for someone who would restore justice.
Solomon discovers that life is unsatisfying. He sees “a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them”(Eccl 6:2). We can live long lives yet our “soul is not satisfied with life’s good things”(Eccl 6:3). We glimpse this around the edges of our experiences—when we are sad at goodbyes, or at the fact that death separates lovers, or at the idea that our work and accumulation gets us nowhere. Our souls crave satisfaction, yet never receive it.
Pointlessness leads Solomon back to God. Solomon ultimately concludes by telling us to remember our Creator while we are young (Eccl 11:9-12:1). “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil”(Eccl 12:13-14). God makes things make sense. God promises justice. God is eternal.
In a similar way, Ecclesiastes can awaken unbelievers to the tensions and frustrations that accompany all human life—and then point them to God. There is something powerful and universal about our shared humanity. We all feel these things. May God help us to use his word to point people to him!