September 22, 2016 - Vanity of Vanities

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
What profit has man from all the labor
which he toils at under the sun?
One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going.
All speech is labored;
there is nothing one can say.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing
nor is the ear satisfied with hearing.

Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

One of the best-selling books of all time (!) was Rick Warren’s, The Purpose Driven Life.  Our secular lives are defined by achievement, goals, measurable success.  Vast swaths of our language of faith revolves around doing the will of God, following Jesus, imitating Jesus – in short: serving a purpose.  It is seductive because it allows us to do what comes naturally: measure ourselves against one another.  But Scripture most often tells us that we don’t have to serve a purpose to be loved.  In fact, just reflecting on our lives for a moment reveals that anything we accomplish will, in time, be forgotten, and all the monuments we may build eventually crumble.  In the opening words of Ecclesiastes, the prophet makes precisely this point: everything we do in our lives is ultimately, in vain.

What do we do if we life is not purpose driven?  That is the end of the guarded beach, isn’t it?  Faith invites us transcend striving for purpose.  Faith is not a moral code to be followed.  It is a transcendent message that we are not defined by what we can do for God.  Our lives may serve no purpose but they are suffused with meaning.  That is grace.  

Photo: Newcomb Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Massachusetts