Sometimes life feels futile. There seems little point in continuing the slog of work, bills, meals, relationships, and more work. Today, things can feel even more futile than normal. For those out of work, getting up in the morning can be a challenge. For those stuck at home, waiting on this pandemic to pass can make daily life seem pointless. Suicide and abuse are both sharply on the rise. The economy has been flushed down the toilet. And netflix only has so much content that is actually watchable.
I don’t turn to the book of Ecclesiastes very often, but God turned my heart towards that book this morning sitting in the office while I was talking to one of our church members. They were talking about never having seen anything like this (the pandemic) before. But the truth is, this is not the first time. It is a first for most of us, but it is not a first.
The Byzantine Empire was slammed by major pandemics in the 6th and 8th centuries. Europe was devastated by several pandemics, most significantly in the 14th century when the Black Death killed million. Following a new age of globalization ushered in by World War 1, the Spanish flu infected an estimated 500 million people and kill an estimate 100 million. Remember, that was at a time where there were only 1.8 billion people on the planed. Greater than 25% of the population of the planet was infected and more than 5% of the population died.
The reality that this has happened before does not lessen the impact on our daily lives. Our lives have changed! Our lives have probably changed permanently to some degree. Don’t think that I don’t appreciate the impact this is having on many billions of people. And that impact is what I really want to talk about. But before we talk about the impact this is having on our daily lives, I really do want you to remember that this is not really new. God is still God. The earth still spins. Humans have endured pandemics before.
Below I’ve included the text (from the ESV) of Ecclesiastes 1:2-11. Read these words, listen to the author’s frustration. See his anxiety and apparent lostness.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. 8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ec. 1:2–11.
We’re roughly 3 weeks into this where I live. Most places are 4-5 weeks into it, but we’re a little behind. And we know that we have at least 4 weeks under social isolation advisories. At LEAST! We are all probably looking at 4-8 weeks of this level of social isolation and it will likely be June or July before things are closer to normal than to this crazy state in which we are currently living.
Things may very well appear futile or vain in the eyes of many of us during that time. Even getting out of bed may get difficult for some. We are all going to be tired of this…even more tired of this than we are already. There is a line in this passage that sticks out to me, probably because of I live in west Texas: “the wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north, around and around goes the wind.”
The wind blows and blows… Where I live, the dirt blows and blows. It just goes round and round. Our days may feel like that very quickly if they don’t already. Round and round, but nothing changes. Many are finding joy in family time. Others are finding joy in a slower pace of life. But none of that joy will hold if we don’t keep the right perspective and if we don’t remember from where our joy comes.
Ecclesiastes was written by a king. A man who by all appearances had everything. He had built and conquered, ruled and profited. He should have been happy by all earthly standards. And yet he felt the futility of daily life.
Ecclesiastes 2:24 says: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.” Notice, when the verse says, “this is from the hand of God,” it refers to the enjoyment found in the early part of the verse. The enjoyment (joy) of the daily things of life comes from God as do all good things (James 1:17). If we are going to have “joy” in this time, it is going to come from God.