“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity’” (Eccl. 1:2). We might just be inclined to think, ‘surely, it can’t be right’ and or say ‘can all things be vanity?’ Or we just don’t know how to react or discern and just resign to the feeling that because it’s the word of God, it must be true. On the other hand, it is indeed true. The Preacher does not assert that life in itself, which God created, is vanity, but the pursuit of things which life calls us for results in it. From the get go we are running to accomplish one thing after the other. It has never stopped and probably will never stop, if we don’t do anything about it. I have pursued things that my mind has called for only to later realize it is vain. Being in the flesh we are often instinctively bound to put our focus on things we deem as important. Our mind creates panic regarding those things so that we run to quench it. But at the end we find that they do not stay with us.
We all have needs and some of us have exceptional needs. So, common sense or logic says we are to pursue or accomplish certain things to fulfill them. Again, sometimes we turn our desires into needs. By constantly pondering on the things we desire our mind is able to turn them into needs. We fantasize those desires – visualize them as happened, though not happened – and slowly or quickly they become needs. Then, there are times when we are unable to distinguish between a genuine or good desire and that which is not. In all these three aspects there is the possibility for the temptation of Satan, the power of sin and the strength of the world to get heavily involved.
A person that fully trusts in God has a great mind toward the above. His wisdom teaches that the pursuit of anything more than God will only result in vanity. Solomon is precisely speaking of such vanity. We can do anything in life for our happiness, yet it does not result in true satisfaction, if God’s not in them. And more importantly, even when God is in some of them by His desire, they end up meaningless after their time; for nothing lasts forever. The only one and thing that last perpetually is God and the intimate relationship with Him. In comparison to these all else is vanity. To see life from such perspective is divine. Then, our attitude toward self, others, life and God is tremendously modified. We begin to see things through greater wisdom.
Once our attitude is modified we make our needs God’s needs by committing them to Him. We do not pursue them with our mind and strength, but let God fulfill them through His power and works. We rest in Him knowing we are taken care of. When there is a danger of turning our desires into needs, we strive to recognize the cause behind and act to please God. And when we are unable to discern between a good and a bad desire, we take the issue to God for counsel. Now, we handle the idea of vanity from His perspective. Thus, we pursue life through Him.
Here are some stepping stones to further facilitate it.
- “Thus says the LORD, ‘If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you’” (Jer. 26:4). Listening to God and keeping His commandments is the ultimate thing, isn’t it? This is what Solomon gets to at the end of his exposition on vanity. Whatever you have done in life or desire to do, you have to arrive for and to it. Israel could not do it and so, ended up with vanity. But we who believe Him as our facilitator and guide can avoid refusing Him and avail true joy and honor.
- “Let the weak say, ‘I am a mighty man’” (Joel 3:10). With God on our side we can believe ourselves as mighty people. This becomes possible with trusting and obeying Him. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us just as Paul did. We conquer everything in life and yet, keep our pursuit of happiness in God.
- “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). Vanity strikes if we wish to save our life, i.e. if we wish to control, govern or dictate our life by our interests and will. It leaves us in disappointment, keeps us parched and heaps discontentment on us. But if we lose our life for Christ and His gospel, i.e. if we follow Him, seek His counsel and accomplish His purpose for us, we see beyond vanity. We see eternal joy.