“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 8:15
This verse, and the entire book of Ecclesiastes, provides a different perspective on life than is often taught in the church today. Prevalent teaching in many churches is critical of “life under the sun,” and it encourages Christians to dismiss it as purely transient. Preachers take to the pulpit and default to the classics: “Do not put your hope in this present world (Matt. 6:19-20),” “we’re strangers and exiles here (1 Peter 2:11),” and “we are in the world, not of it (John 17:16).”
Now, it is right to emphasize the future-oriented flavor of the above verses and exhort believers to place their hope in God’s eternal kingdom. But, there’s another layer of meaning to these verses. The book of Ecclesiastes helps us interpret them because it takes us to the vantage point from which their writers viewed this present world, or “life under the sun.” The message of the book is that everything in life is meaningless, but the conclusion drawn from this truth is surprising.
“Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” That’s how the book of Ecclesiastes opens. The original Hebrew word for “meaningless” is “hevel,” which translates literally to “smoke” or “vapor.” Hevel appears 38 times to communicate that life under the sun is temporary and fleeting. One moment you see it before you, but when the wind changes, it vanishes. It also means life is uncertain and confusing. It’s like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands.
When Christians read Ecclesiastes for the first time, they’re often surprised to find such language in the Bible. The book laments that the world’s beauty and goodness is blown away by tragedy just when you were starting to enjoy it, and that life is full of injustices. Why do bad things happen to good people, it asks? Life is unpredictable—like “chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14).”
Yet amid these bleak monologues, the teacher draws an unexpected conclusion: to enjoy your life under the sun as a gift from God. Ecclesiastes teaches God’s people to accept the life He has given; however enigmatic it may be. You cannot control your life, and nothing is guaranteed—but we find freedom in accepting this truth. By surrendering to the Lord and releasing your notions of what you want your life to be, you become free to enjoy your life as it is.
So, how does this teaching provide another layer of meaning to the “in the world, not of it” concept? Well, it teaches us to put a comma instead of a period at the end of the sentence: “Do not put your hope in this present world.” Ecclesiastes helped form the framework for the New Testament authors’ vision of existence, and, brought to its completion by Jesus’ teaching, presents a paradoxical charge to the Christian: “Do not put your hope in this present world, and you will be free to enjoy it more than anyone else.” It’s rather hilarious, actually. Christians are strangers in this world, yet are free to revel in its beauty more than its very citizens. The present world despises God’s people, yet they will be the ones to inherit its kingdoms (Dan. 7:27).
This is living as God’s witnesses. We Christians live and die, hope and suffer, achieve and fail with an enduring, visible joy because we see something greater. We are the only ones who can experience this life in full recognition that it is a gift from the hand of our Father. Yes, we are strangers here, but we are not trespassers.
True enjoyment of life present and eternal is ours in Jesus Christ.
“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” – Psalm 16:6
Peter McKenna is a social media and public relations professional living in Athens, Georgia. He is a follower of Christ, an avid runner and a self-proclaimed Paleo evangelist.