What’s the Use?
Author: Roy B. Zuck
Week of February 7, 2016
The alarm clock goes off. You reach over from your sleep to turn it off. You drag yourself out of bed. You get dressed and wash your face. You eat breakfast. You go to work. You come home and go to bed tired. You do the same thing the next day.
Why that routine? Where does it get you? With your salary you buy food so you can eat in order to have strength to go to work!
The seeming uselessness of work troubled Solomon. “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (1:3). Man works but gets no gain from it. The word gain, an accounting term, refers to the excess of income over expense, the profit on the bottom line. What is “on the bottom line” for man? What lasting benefit, profit, or surplus comes from work? None, actually.
Not that Solomon was opposed to work. But he came to realize that work of itself doesn’t really solve the riddle of life. Work has its advantages, obviously. But toil also has its drawbacks.
An entire generation comes on the earth and works, but then dies off, while the earth itself—inanimate and less valuable than man—remains. The sun rises and sets, the wind constantly moves in cycles, and the rivers flow into the sea and return to their sources (vv. 5-7). Though repetitious in motion, these aspects of inanimate nature do continue on and outlast man. By strange contrast, man in his activity never finds total fulfillment or completion (v. 8), nothing for man is ever completely new (vv. 9-10), and nothing and no one is remembered for long (v. 11). Meaninglessness in nature is exceeded by meaninglessness in humanity.
Work hard? Yes. But remember Jesus’ words: “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:26)