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Vanity of Vanities All is Vanity (or is it?) Last modified: 28 March 2017

Vanity

From the writings of Solomon the Wise

Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains for ever.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, 
all is vanity and a striving after wind.

The word vanity stems from the word for vapour, which is something with little substance, like a morning mist. We moderns think of it as an excessive interest in self, and especially what we look like or what we have achieved. But to Solomon it has the old meaning, that of emptiness, futility, life without meaning or purpose.

The Problem

The problem that plagues so many people is "Why bother?" What point is there in anything I do? If the universe is all there is, if Nature is all there is, and I must fade at last into mere atoms?

If there is no One outside this space-time universe who cares, and cares for me as an individual, what vain hope is there for any of the works of my hands?

What I have written, the success I've had in making money, the skill and even applause from my art, or my science, or my well-made clay pots;

The music I have created, or my dogged labor for others, or the bricks I have laid, or my vibrant leadership, or the crops I have raised, or my skillful sports;

...though others may remember them after I am gone, what is that to an entity now returned to atoms? It gives no comfort, no hope, and without this we die inwardly before we die outwardly. If there is no one out there, no one who cares for me as an individual, and cares throughout all the ages, I am nothing. All is indeed vanity, and chasing after the wind.

Honestly, the answer to these questions are "they don't matter at all" if there is no one outside who cares.

But if...

But if there is, then it makes all the difference.

Is anyone there? Does He Care? Believed by?
No Meaningless Naturalism, Philosophic Materialism, Atheism, and I think Buddhism
Yes No Deism, and perhaps Hinduism (Brahman, the Supreme, is everything, and in everything, transcendent, but I have not read that Brahman is even conscious of us)
Yes Yes Christianity, Judaism, Islam. Christianity in particular has God Who is outside, the Creator of all, hence transcendent, yet is born into this world as a man, Jesus Immanuel ("God with us"), God immanent

If there is One, who made all the world, and me, then there is strong hope that all I am and all I have done well, whether great or small in other's eyes, will be wrapped up safe and secure with Him forever.

It is worthwhile asking the question.

My Belief

If we trust in the God who reveals Himself in the Bible, as the transcendent/personal One, King over all, yet caring for the least of His creatures, then nothing we have done, that was in itself worthwhile, will be lost, nor forgotten. We are told "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Colossians 3:23, ESV), and He will lose nothing.

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain."

This helps me enormously as I look back on 65 years past, and forward to old age and its gradual loss. Life is worthwhile still, and "not in vain". Thank God!

"All which thy child's mistake Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: Rise, clasp My hand, and come."
From the end of Francis Thompson's poem, "The Hound of Heaven"

Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon

Ecclesiastes Chapter 1 (English Standard Version)

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
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 for ever.
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 round to the north;
round and round 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 Vanity of Wisdom
12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 
13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom 
    all that is done under heaven. 
It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man
    to be busy with. 
14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, 
    all is vanity and a striving after wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be made straight,
    and what is lacking cannot be counted.
16 I said in my heart, "I have acquired great wisdom, 
    surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, 
    and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge." 
17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. 
    I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
18 For in much wisdom is much vexation,
    and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.


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This page http://tardus.net/vanity.html published: 7 October 2016

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