Whilst feeling despair of hope deferred, one might read through Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is hardly an encouraging book—with such thoughts as “all is vanity and a striving after wind” repeated throughout—yet its theme, when followed through to its conclusion, is a refreshing and oft needed reminder.
“I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this also was vanity” (Ecclesiastes 2:1).
When we give thought to this life only, all we might do to find pleasure and meaning in life is futile—“a striving after wind.” For we say in our hearts, “If only I could change this one thing…” or “once this one thing happens…” or “when I at last get this… then will I be happy and satisfied and life will be good.” But such hopes betray us, for either we can never attain them or upon attaining them they prove not to be the answer we expected them to be. Our hearts will be broken either because our hope was thwarted or because, once achieving our dream, it betrayed us and did not ultimately bring us the happiness we sought in it. “These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers” (C. S. Lewis).
The hopes we build and the means we employ in our search of satisfaction are cisterns we have hewn out for ourselves, but they are “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:18). Broken cisterns can never satisfy.
Be that as it may, as Pascal declares:
“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end… This is the motive of every action of every man. But example teaches us nothing. No resemblance is ever so perfect that there is not some slight difference and hence we expect that our hope will not be deceived on this occasion as before. And thus, while the present never satisfies us, experience dupes us and from misfortune to misfortune leads us to death.”
So with good reason are we warned, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Furthermore, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).
Throughout Ecclesiastes, Solomon despairs that “all is vanity,” yet he does not cease to recognize that ultimately it is well for those who fear God. And so, Solomon concludes with this pronouncement:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
This is our purpose, and it is only in doing so that we will find meaning and satisfaction in life. Apart from God, all else is futility indeed.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)