Man’s Maps to Meaning

Man’s Maps to Meaning

I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.
–Ecclesiastes 1:13

Thousands of years ago, Solomon was the king of Israel. As he surveyed the endless cycle of seasons, he decided to set out on a personal pilgrimage to discover something that would give him direction in his life. He wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:13, “I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.” Solomon started out strong in his relationship with God, but then he began to wonder, “Maybe there is something more to life. I will see if there’s some other system of belief that can give me true fulfillment.” Solomon tried three different “maps” to see if he could find meaning in life.

The first map he used was pleasure. He thought perhaps experiencing pleasure was the key to meaning in life. In Ecclesiastes 2:1, he said, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” He tried everything–wine, laughter, women, houses, possessions–and he came to the conclusion that “behold, it too was futility.” Since that didn’t work, what would he do next?

The next map Solomon tried was the pursuit of wisdom. At the beginning of Solomon’s reign as king of Israel, God came to him and said, “Ask what I shall give you” (2 Chronicles 1:7). Most twenty-year-old guys would have chosen a flashy chariot or a hot concubine, but not Solomon. He said, “Give me now wisdom and knowledge” (v. 10). God granted Solomon wisdom and every other thing his heart wanted as well. But Solomon came to this conclusion: “How the wise man and the fool alike die!” (Ecclesiastes 2:16). If you’re a wise person you might be buried at Westminster Abbey, if you’re a fool you might be buried in an unmarked grave, but in the end it doesn’t matter where you’re buried. Dead is dead. The same fate overcomes everybody. Verse 15 says, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me.” In other words, “I will die.” Solomon continued, “‘Why then have I been extremely wise?’ So I said to myself, ‘This too is vanity.’”

Having found no meaning in pleasure or wisdom, Solomon turned to work. Maybe if he threw himself into his work, that would provide meaning. He concluded, “Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity” (vv. 18-19). When my dad only had a few weeks to live, he went through his papers, showing me where his bank accounts were. Then he looked at me and said, “I’ve worked all my life for this, and now I’m going to end up leaving it to somebody else.” That is the wisdom only death brings. It doesn’t matter what you have or what you accomplish, you are going to leave it to somebody else–and who knows what will happen to it then? Even if the person who comes after you builds your company or expands your wealth, so what? You are still going to be dead. Everything we have, everything we achieve, will someday be left behind.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Choosing Companionship over Loneliness” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2019.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.