A friend of mine a couple of months ago, a social media friend (which means he’s not really my friend but we know each other) put up a post, and it was a very serious post. If you need a outline you can raise your hand to get an outline. The question he put up was, what is the purpose of living? Kind of a heavy subject. And I asked his permission to use his post this morning and here are some of the answers, not all of them, that he got to the question what is the purpose of living.
Figuring out your purpose is the purpose.
Accomplishment(for the overachievers).
There’s no right way to live your life, it’s just to live it, to make the world shine.
Family. I’m very close with all my family members and we have pulled each other out of deep holes, so I would say the purpose of living is family.
Not quite as simple view or maybe a more simple view is biologically its reproduction so your species can continue to exist.
Good weed and bad women. (I didn’t make this up.)
To learn and then pass on what you’ve learned to those who want it. To be loved and then to give love.
And then my personal favorite is this one.
Energy is never created nor destroyed and all vibrating produces different manifestations of the same single unit. Consciousness is just a manifestation of energy. We are all focal points to a collective consciousness all experiencing different perspectives of the same infinite universe. No one can tell you, help you, guide you. Only you can accept the path or deny it and return to the collective. So in my recommendation (y’all with me so far?) I say you should seek out and intentionally experience the emotion of love. Let that vibrate into the vacuity of space. See what returns and let that define your place. Other than that, good weed and bad women.
Got everything you need now, right?
There isn’t a purpose. You just do the next right thing till you die and then that’s it. No one knows the answer and anyone that says so is full of it. But hey, weed is a good reason.
You see a recurring theme here? And then the very last the very last comment was the original poster who just put up a sad face. And I feel kind of the same way after reading that. I don’t read that and hear that and am full of hope. There’s kind of an emptiness. There’s no purpose in life. One person was just saying that making no bones about it, there’s no purpose. It’s what I’m terming emptiness, emptiness of life and most of us have experienced it in one way or the other. It is in many ways the theme of Ecclesiastes. The theme of Ecclesiastes is this, if life is only under the sun, that is if all we have is what we see and touch in this brief amount of life, if that’s all there is under the sun, then life doesn’t have any purpose. And we come to the sixth chapter of Ecclesiastes, and all the experts I read said this is the darkest chapter of Ecclesiastes, which I’m thinking probably puts it in the top 5 or 10 for the darkest chapters in the Bible.
Lucky you, lucky me. I get to teach on this. So what do we do with this? We’re tempted to kind of not enter in. We’re tempted to do what that great thinker Calvin said. That Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes. Hobbes is pushing Calvin saying aren’t you supposed to be doing your homework? I’m pretty sure the assignment was optional. Denial springs eternal.
It’s not denial. I’m just very selective about the reality I accept. When it comes to this reality of Ecclesiastes and this purposelessness of life, I don’t want to think about that. We’re just going to close our ears nah nah nah nah, and I’m just going to be very selective about the reality I think about. Or you can take a little more dark approach. The French writer Camus, Albert Camus, said this.
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. He was a ball at parties by the way. Judging whether life is or is not worth living is the fundamental question of philosophy, and Camus actually agrees with Ecclesiastes except he doesn’t have anything beyond the sun, and he says if this life is all there is, basically then we have to not be naive, don’t be shallow, wrestle with the idea, have the guts to face that if there’s no purpose in life why live it? Pretty dark.
Most of us don’t want to go there. So one of the other approaches is a favorite amongst Americans. I call it sentimentalism. It’s a hallmark card. Keep smiling because life is a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about, said Marilyn Monroe. The irony right? She died in a drug overdose not as a happy person. And so as we enter into this dark chapter here is going to be the temptation, keep it at a distance, right?
Last summer we went to the Grand Canyon, my family and I did. And if you’ve ever been out there, some places where there’s just a big drop, if you have a fear of heights you’re like I’m not getting anywhere near that. Most of places we went there weren’t railings. And you feel vulnerable. You feel frightened walking up to the edge you know. Right?And so my son who fancies himself a tough guy stayed far away. I’m not getting anywhere near that edge, and that’s our temptation when it comes to a heavy subject like this. But if you don’t walk up to the edge you miss the beauty. And so I want to invite you to push against the tendency to step back, because there is beauty. It’s just going to take a little bit to get there.
So we’re going to look at some of the symptoms of emptiness, this word that I’m using, that are here in this chapter. And there are five symptoms that I’m going to highlight of our emptiness. Symptom number one of emptiness is that there’s a heavy evil. Verse 1 says, it starts out, there is an evil that I’ve seen under the sun and it lies heavy on mankind. And this is a general statement and a specific,. He’s going to give us a specific in a minute. But the general is this, every single seat that’s occupied by a bottom in this room has something heavy.
Now maybe this isn’t the heaviest part of your life, you’ve had heavier chapters, you’ve had heavier evils, but every single one of you without exception is feeling some sort of heaviness. In our own family our 15 year old has been sick for 10 weeks with something that’s kind of undiagnosed. Someone came up after the first service and said I have a family member who’s in addiction. I heard another story about a family whose 5 year old died. I mean there’s just heaviness, and it doesn’t always have to be that kind of heaviness, it could be that you just got in a fight with someone in your family on the way to church. But y’all are church people so y’all never do that, but just theoretically. We have heavy things in our lives.
And it starts in the nursery, right? One crawls over to the other takes the toy. They’re happy, crying and it just gets more sophisticated after that. You get in middle and high school and there’s gossip and the joys of popularity and loneliness and bullying and pressure. You know the number two cause of death in those 15 to 24 year olds?
Number two, suicide. A lot of despair. A lot of Camus. As you get older it just gets more complicated.
Careers, broken relationships, hard family issues, health, finances. Should I just keep going or is that enough? Eighty percent of women in America hate their bodies.
That’s heavy. Heavy evil
is among all of us. And you don’t have to believe the Bible, you don’t have to be a follower of Christ to just open your eyes and see it and feel it.
What’s heavy on you today? Probably lots of stuff. That’s symptom number one of our emptiness,
there’s a heaviness. Symptom number two is that we have a craving and we have cravings but we can’t enjoy. Up on the screen I’ve put a very literal sort of translation of the original Hebrew. Verse 2 it says, a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor so that he lacks nothing of all that his soul craves. It doesn’t really say he desires the original says his soul, his nephesh, craves something, yet God does not give him the power to eat them.
It’s not just enjoy but to eat them. A stranger eats them. And so the picture here is that even if you get everything, and most of us won’t, but even if you did it’d be like sitting down at a meal, the greatest meal ever cooked, and you can smell it, and you can see it, it’s beautiful, and you just can’t eat it. And if you do it doesn’t taste good, you can’t enjoy it. This is life under the sun, and I thought about this.
Just a few weeks ago I finished Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. He’s a fascinating guy, brilliant dude, college dropout but founded Apple of course. He is infamous for berating and belittling the people that he worked for. I mean just crushing them. And he’s also kind of infamous for having four children, one of whom he ignored for most of her life. The other three he chose one that was a favorite and the other two he kind of just eh. And he died at a relatively young age, early 50’s, of cancer despite the fact that he was a vegetarian all his life. So those of you who are against vegetarianism here’s your guy. But he died with 36 billion dollars. I can’t wrap my mind around that. I can’t wrap my mind around a million dollars but 36 billion is 36 thousand millions. Does that help? I don’t think he’s enjoying any of it.
Get everything, go anywhere or do anything. Can’t enjoy it. That’s a heavy evil, and while evil is heavy we are not. Symptom number three of our emptiness is that we’re weightless. Look at verse 2 again, a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor. That pretty much covers everything, wealth, possessions, and honor. And that word honor is an important word in the Old Testament. We actually used that a minute ago glory, glory. That’s the word. God gives wealth, possessions, and glory. And the word glory in the Hebrew is usually given to God, and it actually means weight. Glory means weight. Here’s here’s what I mean by that. If you think about it for a second God we give glory to because he’s a king. If we’re British and the King or the Queen walked into this room. Woah, the King and the Queen! Or you’re a sports fan and LeBron James walks in. You’re a pop music fan and Taylor Swift walks in. You’re a politician and whichever politician you love or hate at the time walks in. People have weight they don’t really, but we assign that. This man has been given wealth, possessions and weight. But the irony is he’s weightless because the other word that is used here is vanity, and it’s hevel. And the word hevel means breath. You think you have weight. You long for weight, you long for glory. But at the end of the day you’re just a vapor, you’re vanity, right? And every single one of us in this room longs for something that gives us significance and weight and substance. And it starts early. You know if I can just get the right clothes in middle school, that’ll make it cool. And again it doesn’t really change once you get older. We’re looking for something to give us weight.In a sense we’re all kind of as pathetic as Uncle Rico.
A few of you know who Uncle Rico is. Poor Uncle Rico is trying to relive the glory days that he actually didn’t have back in nineteen eighty two. Meet Uncle Rico. Back in 82
I used to be able to throw pigskin a quarter mile. Are you serious? I’m dead serious. How much you want to make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains? Now if coach would have put me in fourth quarter we’d have been state champions no doubt. No doubt in my mind. You’d better believe things would have been different. I’d have gone pro in a heartbeat.
I’d be making millions of dollars and living in a big ol’ mansion somewhere somewhere, soaking it up in a hot tub with my soul mate. I reckon you know a lot about cyberspace. You ever come across anything like time travel?
Easy. I’ve already looked into it for myself.
If only he could get the hot tub in the woman and all that stuff, right? And it’s easy to laugh. But are the things that we go to, that I go to that you go to, hey this is who I am. Is it less pathetic? I’m sure kind of weightless. Symptom number 4 of our emptiness is that we’re forgotten.
Verse 3 says this. If a man fathers 100 children and lives many lives so that the days of his years are many but his soul (there’s that word again nephesh) is not satisfied with life’s good things and he also has no burial. I say that a stillborn child is better off than he for it, the stillborn child comes in vanity and goes in darkness and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over yet enjoy no good do not all go to the one place? And of all the shocking things that the writer of Ecclesiastes says, I think this might be most shocking. You understand what he’s saying, that if your life is only under the sun then a stillborn child is better off than you because they won’t know the heaviness, they won’t know the evil, they won’t know the weight.
And this hits home to us right? Just two weeks ago a family friend of ours gave birth to a child that lived five hours. We’ve miscarried. The point is not that, the point is this. If all you have is this life that’s more tragic. It’s more tragic than a stillborn child. Do not all go to the one place? That child who lived five hours and Steve Jobs are both in a grave. This is hard. In the past year or last year I buried a brother and a very dear friend. It’s hard to think of them in that way.
One commentator on this passage said this. Every single thing you own will either be boxed up and given away or boxed up and thrown away. And you’ll be painted up like a clown and put into a box in the ground or you will be burned to ashes. You will be thrown away too. And you groan. And we say he shouldn’t have said that. It’s hard because it’s true. So Calvin says to the universe, I’m significant screamed the dust speck.
Can we face that we are a room full of sandcastles and high tide is coming? Can you stay at the edge or do you want to run away? Hang on we’re almost finished. Symptom number five of our emptiness is actually more emptiness. It doesn’t satisfy. There’s no filling. Verse 7 says this, all the toil of a man is for his mouth yet his soul is not satisfied. We eat so we can work so that we can eat so that we can work and the more we do it the less satisfied we are. And the soul is not satisfied.
It’s very interesting because in in America in the West we tend to think that our desires, our cravings are only in our bodies. It’s all biological, it’s hormonal, it’s chemical. And there’s certainly truth to that. But actually the Hebrew mindset that the Old Testament was written in is much more holistic I think. The Hebrew mindset is this. Your cravings actually primarily flow out of your soul, your nephesh, that craves something. But our souls are wandering. Verse 9 says this, Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the soul. And so we wander from thing to thing and person to person and marriage to marriage, sin to sin, distraction to distraction. And the more we feed on emptiness the more hungry we are.
It says this also is vanity. It’s not a striving after the wind. The word that’s used there is a feeding of the wind. Let me ask you if you eat wind, are you full? The things that we do. Do we have the guts to admit that they don’t fill us? And this is the part in the sermon where in past weeks we would say hey if you’re a first timer here at North Hills we apologize for this difficult thing that we’re talking about. But the teacher doesn’t do that. He doesn’t pull his punches. He doesn’t apologize. He says do you have the guts not to numb out? Do you have the guts not to check out? He wants to slaughter the things that we trust in. Don’t check out.
The symptoms of emptiness. Where do they come from? They’re just symptoms. What’s the root cause? What’s the disease if you will? Let’s talk for a minute about that. And it’s simply that we were born beyond the sun but we are exiled under the sun. We are born beyond the sun. Where do I get that? The last three verses of the chapter, verses 10-12 all commentators agree are are echoing back to the first couple of pages of the Bible origins, Genesis. So the word named is used there. Whatever has come to be has already been named. That’s that word, God names the heavens and the earth. Adam names the animals. There’s this nine times in the first couple of chapters this hearkening back. Then verse 12, for who knows? That word know is rich. It’s the same word for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam knew his wife. They knew that they were naked and ashamed. And who knows what is good? Remember, it is good, it is good.
It is good, very good. All of this and Adam. Man is mentioned four times in those last three verses. The word Adam, Adam. And what’s going on, the commentators say this is the exact middle of the book, and in Hebrew literature that meant it’s the most important. These three verses are harkening back to origins, and here’s what they’re saying.
Your craving comes because you remember Eden. You remember living in a garden. You remember living in a place where you were named. You remember good and evil and you rejected good and you embraced evil. You remember knowing God and rejecting him. You remember being naked and ashamed, and you say I wasn’t there. How can I remember? Ecclesiastes 3, one of the most important verses in the Old Testament in my opinion says this. God has put eternity in man’s heart.
You do remember. It’s in your hardwiring. It’s why you long for something better. It’s why you long for something more beautiful because there’s eternity set into the heart of man. And so so our origins are beyond the sun. But the problem is we are exiled under the sun. The chapter ends with the same words that it began. Who can tell man what will be after him under the sun. We’re like people who have had their arms cut off at the elbow and we still think we feel our fingers, phantom limbs. We remember, we remember a garden. We were born in a garden so beautiful it would make you cry. But we are exiled under the sun where there’s decay and pollution and war and hatred and racism. We were born learning to walk in a garden holding our father’s finger. And we are exiled under the sun to a place where sometimes God just seems so distant from us. We were born in a place where music and fruit and flowers flourished and you couldn’t even imagine them.
But we live under the sun where everything tastes like cardboard, and the glory fades. We remember a perfect sex, perfect laughter and perfect friendship and perfect love and perfect fun and perfect rest and perfect intimacy with God. We remember, but we can’t get back. We are in exile. Let us pray. I’m kidding. Some of you actually did it. Wow. If we did that, that’s dark, right?
Is there hope? And the answer is yes. Hang with me for a minute.
Three things that are antidotes for our emptiness and the first one is this. Listen to your emptiness. Don’t ignore it. Don’t numb it with drugs or alcohol or your iPhone. Listen to your emptiness. One of the interesting things, Peter and I were talking couple months ago about this series in Ecclesiastes, and I was telling him… as he mentioned earlier I work with the homeless in Greenville. It’s been wonderful, what a privilege to work there. One of the fascinating things I’ve seen over the years is how many homeless guys and addicts that I work with say my favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. I always thought that was fascinating because it tends to be kind of a thick, heavy, heady sort of book.
So after a while after I heard this many times I said, why is that? Because that dude tried everything just like me, and we came to the same conclusion.
That’s why they like. It’s so real. And Peter was telling me it’s interesting because he deals with people at the other end of the demographic, people who who literally could do and have anything that they wanted and he said they love Ecclesiastes too because they’ve gone everywhere and tried everything and done everything and they found the same answer.
Here’s the danger. Most of us are in the vast middle which means that we’re the most vulnerable to being the numb with HGTV or ESPN or whatever the latest game is or whatever the latest iPhone. Can you listen to your emptiness? When I didn’t know Christ I felt empty.
You know why I felt empty? I was. And some of you are empty because you don’t have a name. There’s a hole inside of your being and it’s real. You need to listen to it. It might lead you home. So that’s the second thing I’d say is listen, not just listen to your emptiness but listen to your cravings. Now let me be careful. I’m not saying obey your cravings. We already have enough of that. You don’t need any encouragement to obey your cravings. You don’t need encouragement to good weed and bad women. Well some of it. That’s the American answer. Hey if you feel it, do it. It’s working great, isn’t it?
As our culture crumbles. Buddhism actually takes a very different approach. The very first of the four noble truths of Buddhism says life has suffering, it’s actually unsatisfying. It’s the very first of the four noble truths. Actually Buddhism says the same thing that Ecclesiastes is saying – life is unsatisfying – but has a very different answer. It says renounce your cravings. In other words it’s a kind of denial. So you have these approaches like give in to your cravings, renounce your cravings like they don’t even exist. But the Bible I think has a very different approach.
Listen to your cravings. They’re telling you something. They’re telling you about a place that you lost but you can get back there again. For example beauty. Everybody has something they think is beautiful whether it’s Augusta National or a car or a person, something, a sunset. We all have things that we say, that’s beautiful. What’s it telling you? It’s telling you that there was once a beautiful place. The most beautiful place and your soul remembers. And what’s interesting is Camus, beauty bothered him because he lived his life under the sun. He didn’t believe in anything beyond the sun.
So here’s what he says, one of his very famous quotes about beauty. Beauty is unbearable. It drives us to despair, offering for us a minute the glimpse of eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole time. But we don’t have that consolation. To live with the feeling that life is pointless gives rise to anguish.
Do you see how close he comes? Beauty should and is pointing me to an eternity. But I don’t believe in eternity. So it just makes me crazy. How different the approach of C.S. Lewis who was himself early in his life an atheist. He says this. Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger, well there’s such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim, well there’s such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire, well there is such thing as sex.
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, then earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so I must take care on the one hand never to despise or be unthankful for these earthly blessings.
And on the other never to mistake them for something else of which they are only a copy, or echo or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country. So what C.S. Lewis is saying is that these cravings for wholeness, for peace, for the parts of our lives to fit together, this sense that, man I just don’t fit in the world. That’s real. But instead of it sending you to despair, what if you followed it back to your true country where the cravings are pointed in the right direction.
We crave for wholeness but we turn that to drugs and alcohol. We crave intimacy but we turn that to pornography. What if the craving was in the right direction So listen to your cravings. They’re telling you something. Finally get beyond the sun. What do I mean by that? Because we already said you can’t go back. You’re exiled. How do you get back to a place you’ve never been? How do you get back to a place that’s guarded and closed off to you? How do you get back to Eden? And it’s interesting because there’s an important word that’s used here in verse 10. It says this, man is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. That word dispute with is a legal term.
And what Ecclesiastes is saying is that you can’t argue with God. I mean you can. You have. I have. You just won’t win. You can argue with him. But but like Job at the end of the book of Job, he rants and raves and complains for 38 chapters and then God talks and Job shuts up. Like Adam and Eve when they were caught. What can they say?
See there’s a sense in which the only one who can save us is the one that we don’t have relationship with. We are disputing with God. And it’s a legal term. What we need is someone who will speak for us someone who will take up our cause, someone who will be our advocate. Someone who will be our defense lawyer, someone who will be our hero. And I thought about this just a couple of weeks ago I saw Black Panther. If you don’t want to hear a spoiler, stick your fingers in your ears.
But basically the story is there’s this amazing country. Think about this. There’s this amazing country and a false king comes in and begins to destroy the country and takes it to the brink of utter ruin. And there’s this garden that grows in that country, and that garden is the source of the power of that country. Does any of this sound familiar to you? And the false king burns the garden, and the true king has to come back and fight. And I was sitting there thinking even Marvel has eternity set in their hearts. You can’t get away from the true story.
And so in the true story of Christianity it’s this. You can’t get beyond the sun. The sun is going to have to come to you. So the one who made the sun who lives beyond the sun steps under the sun, is born of a woman under sun so that he can put eternity back into our hearts again and take us back to our true home.
1 John 2 says this, If anyone sins we have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the righteous. Your defense lawyer, the One who will dispute for you, not with you but for you. And so Christ the true King, glory in the flesh throws over the usurper in another garden, sweats blood, and he goes to the one place, the grave. He comes back out.
Eden has to come to us, and Eden has come to us. So a couple of questions. What will you do with your emptiness? You’re going to do something with all this. If you walk out that door and you do nothing, then you’ve wasted yet another forty five minutes of your all too brief life. What will you do with your emptiness? Will you numb out? Get on ESPN? Get on HGTV? Or will you follow the breadcrumbs back to your true home? Back to your Eden.
See a diagnosis of emptiness makes possible a prescription for emptiness. And here’s the cool thing. Of all the religions that have ever been invented, there’s only one where the God says I will come to people who are empty. In every religion you’ve got to get full so that God will approve you. In Christianity you’ve got to be empty. So if you’re empty and you’re full of sin, if you’re empty and you’re full of hopelessness, if you’re empty and you’re full of confusion and anger, if you’re empty and you need filling.
Jesus says this blessed are the poor in spirit. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If you’re empty, be of good cheer. Those are the people he comes to. And some of you have never come to him and today you could.
And you should. How’s it working the way you’re doing it? And some of you have come to him ten thousand times, and you’re still empty and he says come on again. Doesn’t wear out. So what would you do with your emptiness? Number two what do you value, really? What do you value, really? Oh I’m a follower of Jesus.
Everything in my life looks exactly the same as my pagan neighbors but I’m a follower of Jesus. I value the exact same things they do. I get in the same political arguments they do. I’m just like them. And so Ecclesiastes, if it’s doing anything it’s saying listen. What do you really value? Because the things that you value are vapor. And if you interact with the Book of Ecclesiastes and it doesn’t change your values, then you missed the point. I had a guy, I love this guy at the mission.
He said the only time I feel at home is when I’m with other people who are doing meth. The only time I feel at home is when I’m with other people who are doing meth. And we all sit there and think, how sad. And the only time I feel at home is when I’m watching TV, when I’m on social media, when I’m playing games, when I’m numbing out, when I’m doing my hobby. Is that better than meth? It’ll kill you either way. What do you value, really?
I had to ask myself this. What wind am I feeding on? I had a I had a really difficult thing happen yesterday, and you know what my soul does? It wants comfort. And I have all my favorites. I’ve got lots of them. I don’t have just one, I have lots of go tos when things are hard and I can run to them. But what if, and this happened, it does happen.
What if we stopped. And instead of all the wind that we’re trying to feed on, what if we went to the Lord with that discomfort? That’s what it looks like to begin to live beyond the sun. Let’s ask for help.
Father thank you that when we could not come to you you came to us. You were born under the sun and under great evil so that you can lift us and take us. And so Father I pray for your Spirit to do a work in my heart and all of our hearts so that we would be different people. Not just full of information but beginning to be transformed. Start with me. Father thank you that you are glad to answer that prayer, yes and amen.
I pray in the name of Christ who lives and reigns with the Father, one God now and forever.