Ecclesiastes: Is Life Meaningless? 伝道者の書:人生は無意味でしょうか?

I remember when I was in college, my friends and I would stay up late many nights and ponder the questions of life and existence; questions such as:

*Is pork red or white meat?
豚肉は赤身肉、それとも白身肉?
*What’s the sound of one hand clapping?
片手で拍手をしたらどんな音がする?

And of course:

*Is life meaningless?
人生は無意味でしょうか?

Is life meaningless? Though almost everyone, religious or not, would readily disagree, this question is affirmed more often than most people think. Consider:

*Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote, “The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless.” (A Confession, 1884)
*Non-religious people who believe in evolution would say that our existence is purely accidental, that our life is the result of nothing more than random chance.

And even the Bible says:

Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless! (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
2 伝道者は言う、空の空、空の空、いっさいは空である。

In fact, many Biblical scholars would say that this is indeed the theme of the Book of Ecclesiastes: Life is meaningless!

What?! Wait a minute! Are you telling me that the Bible teaches that life is meaningless?! Right around now, you’re probably thinking, “What kind of preacher are you?! What kind of Christian are you?!”

Which brings us to this month’s Bible book message! This month, we will look at the Book of Ecclesiastes. Let’s see if Ecclesiastes really does teach that “life is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes is:
伝道者の書は

*the 21st book of the Bible
聖書の21番目の書物

*one of the five books in the Wisdom and Poetry block of the Old Testament (along with Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon)
旧約聖書の5つの知恵と詩の書物(ヨブ記、詩篇、箴言、雅歌に加えて)の一つ

*largely believed to have been written by King Solomon around 900 B.C. 900年BC頃、ソロモン王によって書かれたと信じられている

Ecclesiastes can be distinctly broken up into three parts.

1) Part One: The Problem Is Declared (Chapters 1 and 2)
パート1:問題が明らかにされる(1、2章)

Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless! (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
2 伝道者は言う、空の空、空の空、いっさいは空である。

If you remember from our study of the Book of Proverbs last month, the author King Solomon is widely regarded as one of the wisest men in human history. And this wise man, blessed by God with incredible wisdom and vast wealth, basically came to the conclusion that, indeed, life is meaningless. This is the problem. Life is meaningless.

We call it a problem, because if life is truly meaningless, what are we to do with it? Let me ask you, what do you usually do with meaningless things? (ask) Are we to throw our life away? Are we to waste our life on trivial pursuits? What are we supposed to do with our life, if our existence is, as non-religious people would say, accidental?

I’m not going to answer the question just yet. Let’s continue in Ecclesiastes.

2) Part Two: The Problem Is Discussed (Chapters 3-10)
パート2:問題が議論される(3~10章)

The book then dives into a long and detailed account of the meaninglessness of life. In it, it covers four main points, which are:

a) the monotony of life
人生の単調さ

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. What does the worker gain from his toil? (Ecclesiastes 3:1-9)
1 天が下のすべての事には季節があり、すべてのわざには時がある。
2生るるに時があり、死ぬるに時があり、植えるに時があり、植えたものを抜くに時が あり、3殺すに時があり、いやすに時があり、こわすに時があり、建てるに時があり、 4 泣くに時があり、笑うに時があり、悲しむに時があり、踊るに時があり、

5 石を投げるに時があり、石を集めるに時があり、抱くに時があり、抱くことをやめ
るに時があり、 6捜すに時があり、失うに時があり、保つに時があり、捨てるに時があり、
7 裂くに時があり、縫うに時があり、黙るに時があり、語るに時があり、
8 愛するに時があり、憎むに時があり、戦うに時があり、和らぐに時がある。
9 働く者はその労することにより、なんの益を得るか。

As deep and poetic and beautiful as these words may sound (some people may know these same words thanks to a popular song from the 60’s called Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds), all they are really saying is that life follows a certain cycle that is monotonous.

You may be familiar with the same monotonous cycle. We get up, we eat, we go to school or work, we go pee, we go poo, and we go to sleep, only to repeat the same cycle over and over again.

b) the futility of wealth
 富の無益

God gives a man wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. (Ecclesiastes 6:2)
2すなわち神は富と、財産と、誉とを人に与えて、その心に慕うものを、一つも欠ける
ことのないようにされる。しかし神は、その人にこれを持つことを許されないで、他 人がこれを持つようになる。これは空である。悪しき病である。

I will let those words speak for themselves.

c) the vanity of wisdom
 知恵のむなしさ

All this I tested by wisdom and I said, “I am determined to be wise,” but this was beyond me. Whatever wisdom may be, it is far off and most profound. Who can discover it? (Ecclesiastes 7:23,24)
23わたしは知恵をもってこのすべての事を試みて、「わたしは知者となろう」と言っ
たが、遠く及ばなかった。24物事の理は遠く、また、はなはだ深い。だれがこれを見 いだすことができよう。

These words are pretty self-explanatory, too. Wisdom, in the finite constraints of the limited ability of human beings, is meaningless.

d) the certainty of death
 死の確実性

…but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him. All share a common destiny— the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, … The same destiny overtakes all.

The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. (Ecclesiastes 9:1b,2a,3b)
愛するか憎むかは人にはわからない。彼らの前にあるすべてのことは空である。
2 すべての人に臨むところは、みな同様である。また人の心は悪に満ち、その生きて いる間は、狂気がその心のうちにあり、その後は死者のもとに行くのである。

Once more, these words are self-explanatory. Good people and bad people, rich people and poor people, we all have one life, and we all die.

Of course, this is not the end to our message. If it stopped here, this would be one depressing and blasphemous message. As is always the case, God never leaves us hanging. God always provides a way, and here, finally, is the answer to the question, “Is life meaningless?” The simple answer is “Yes, life is meaningless…without God.” Or, another way to answer it is, “No, life is not meaningless…with God.”

3) Part Three: The Problem Is Resolved (Chapters 11 and 12)
パート3:問題が解かれる(11、12章)

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14)
13事の帰する所は、すべて言われた。すなわち、神を恐れ、その命令を守れ。これは
すべての人の本分である。
14 神はすべてのわざ、ならびにすべての隠れた事を善悪ともにさばかれるからであ る。

Here is the resolution and the conclusion. The Book of Ecclesiastes ends with an encouragement to live by faith and to enjoy life as God intended. In short, King Solomon concluded that life is filled with difficulties and perplexities, and there is much that nobody can understand, let alone control. From the human point of view, it is all meaningless and foolish. But for the person of faith, life is God’s gift to us, and he wants us to enjoy it and use it for his glory.
人生は困難や混乱でいっぱいであり、誰にも分からないことがたくさんあり、コント
ロールさえできないとソロモン王は結論を出しています。人間の観点からして、すべて が無意味で愚かなことです。しかし、信仰のある者には、人生は神からの賜物であ り、神は私たちが楽しみ、神の栄光のために用いることを望んでおられます。

For us as Christians, life without Jesus Christ is indeed “meaningless and a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14) みな空であって風を捕えるようである。But when

we know him personally and live for him faithfully, we experience “fullness of joy and pleasures forever more.” (Psalms 16:11) 満ちあふれる喜びがあり、とこしえにもろも
ろの楽しみがある。

What a relief to turn from pessimistic views and instead be reaffirmed and reassured in hearing Jesus Christ say, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might
have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) わたしがきたのは、羊に命を得させ、豊かに得
させるためである。Or to read Paul’s declaration:

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
58 だから、愛する兄弟たちよ。堅く立って動かされず、いつも全力を注いで主のわざ
に励みなさい。主にあっては、あなたがたの労苦がむだになることはないと、あなた がたは知っているからである。

Life is not in vain, as the Book of Ecclesiastes ultimately teaches us. Life is not meaningless if it is lived according to the will of God.

(pray)