Have you ever talked with a true cynic who maintains no matter what you say that life is just not worth it? How do you answer him? Perhaps today’s devotional will give you some ideas. God bless you.
Because of Calvary,
Ecclesiastes 1:2 (ESV)
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
“Those who raise the question, ‘Is life worth living?’ answer it by — living on; for no man lives simply to proclaim what a worthless and wretched creature he is. But for the most part the question is mooted in a merely academical and not very sincere spirit. And to the dainty and fastidious pessimist who goes about to imply his own superiority by declaring that the world which contents his fellows is not good enough for him, there still seems no better reply than the rough but rousing and wholesome rebuke which Epictetus gave to such as he some nineteen centuries ago, reminding them that there were many exits from the theatre of life, and advising them, if they disliked the ‘show,’ to retire from it by the nearest door of escape, and to make room for spectators of a more modest and grateful spirit.
“Of the pessimists of his time he demands, ‘Was it not God who brought you here? And as what did He bring you? Was it not as a mortal? Was it not as one who was to live with a little portion of flesh upon the earth, and to witness His administration — to behold the great spectacle around you for a little while? After you have beheld the solemn and august spectacle as long as is permitted you, will you not depart when He leads you out, adoring and thankful for what you have heard and seen? For you the solemnity is over. Go away, then, like a modest and grateful person. Make room for others.’
“‘But why,’ urges the pessimist, ‘did He bring me into the world on these hard terms?’
“‘Oh!’ replies Epictetus, ‘if you don’t like the terms, it is always in your power to leave them. He has no need of a discontented spectator. He will not miss you much, nor we either.’
“But if any man lift the question into a more sincere and noble form by asking, ‘How may life be made worth living, or best worth living?’ — in other words, ‘What is the true ideal, and what the chief good, of man?’ — he will find no nobler answer to it, and none more convincingly and persuasively put, than that contained in this Scripture, which modern pessimists are apt to quote whenever they want to ‘approve’ their melancholy hypothesis ‘with a text.’ From Schopenhauer downward, this Book is constantly cited by them as if it confirmed the conclusion for which they contend, Taubert even going so far as to find ‘a catechism of pessimism in it.’ Their assumption, however, is based on a total misapprehension of the design and drift of Ecclesiastes of which no scholar should have been guilty and of which it is hard to see how any scholar could have been guilty had he studied it as a whole, instead of carrying away from it only what he wanted. So far from lending any countenance to their conclusion of despair, it frankly traverses it — as I hope to show, and as many have shown before me — and lands us in its very opposite; the conclusion of the whole matter with the Hebrew preacher being, that whoso cultivates the virtues of charity, diligence, and cheerfulness, because God is in Heaven and rules over all, he will not only find life well worth living, but will pursue its loftiest ideal and touch its true blessedness.
“When scholars and ‘philosophers’ have fallen into a mistake so radical and profound, it is not surprising that the unlettered should have followed their leaders into the ditch, and taken this Scripture to be the most melancholy in the Sacred Canon, instead of one of the most consolatory and inspiriting, for want of apprehending its true aim. Beyond all doubt, there is a prevailing ground tone of sadness in the Book; for through by far the larger part of its course it has to deal with some of the saddest facts of human life — with the errors which divert men from their true aim, and plunge them into a various and growing misery. But the voice which sinks so often into this tone of sadness is the voice of a most brave and cheerful spirit, a spirit whose counsels can only depress us if we are seeking our chief good where it cannot be found. For the Preacher, as we shall see, does not condemn the wisdom or the mirth, the devotion to business, or the acquisition of wealth, in which most men find the ‘chief good and market of their time,’ as in themselves vanities. He approves of them; he shows us how we may so pursue and so use them as to find them very pleasant and wholesome; how we may so dispense with them, if they prove beyond our reach, as none the less to enjoy a very true and abiding content. His constant and recurring moral is that we are to enjoy our brief day on earth; that God meant us to enjoy it; that we are to be up and doing, with a heart for any strife, or toil, or pleasure; not to sit still and weep over broken illusions and defeated hopes. Our lower aims and possessions become vanities to us only when we seek in them that supreme satisfaction which He who has ‘put eternity into our hearts’ designed us to find only in Him and in serving Him. If we love and serve Him, if we gratefully acknowledge Him to be the Author of ‘every good gift and every perfect boon,’ if we seek first His kingdom and righteousness; in fine, if we are Christian in more than name, the study of this Book should not make us sad. We should find in it a confirmation of our most intimate convictions, and incentives to act upon them. But if we do not hold our wisdom, our mirth, our labor, our wealth as the gifts and ordinances of God for our good, if we permit them to usurp his seat and become as gods to us, then indeed this Book will be sad enough for us, but no whit sadder than our lives. It will be sad, and will make us sad, yet only that it may lead us to repentance, and through repentance to a true and lasting joy.” [Samuel S. Cox, The Book of Ecclesiastes,” The Expositor’s Bible III edited by W. Robertson Nicoll, (Hartford, CT: The S. S. Scranton Company, 1908); p. 455]