The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes who calls himself the Preacher, has a thesis and his thesis is: Life is empty, vain, meaningless, futile, and without satisfaction. And furthermore, people attempt to fill that emptiness and find some meaning in a meaningless life in various ways.

The Preacher, in Ecclesiastes 9 says that, the person who is able to rest and trust in God's sovereign providence over his life draws comfort from that sovereignty. And in the face of the uncertainties of life, and even in the face of uncertain death, he is able to enjoy life as a gift from the providing God. Having that perspective changes his view of life from meaningless to meaningful, from futile and vain, to happy and satisfying. Trusting in a sovereign God makes all the difference. And we want to walk through this passage as the Preacher takes us to some of the unexpected turns of this life, universal death, the universal end that we all face, and makes us take stock of our own hearts whether they're empty or full and points us to the only place where they can be filled if they're empty.

Think of the Uncertainties of Life, Biblically

Let's look at verses 1-6 first. Here's where he first introduces the reality of unexpected providences and death. "For I have taken all this to my heart." All the things that were spoken about in chapter 8. "I've taken all that to heart," he says, "and, I want to explain it this way." He acknowledges that God's children, those who by His grace have been made righteous and wise, are in God's hands. But he doesn't stop there. He goes on to say that even though it is true, that God cares for His own, it is also true that there are uncertainties in our life that none of us know about.

He deals with the uncertainty of life in verse 1. No man knows what awaits. What kind of treatment the righteous will receive is unknown. What kind of life he will experience is uncertain. No one can tell what the future will bring. Righteousness and wisdom, then, have no guarantees of leading to a blissful life. You can have a fine young person who loves the Lord, who has a very hard way ahead. And you can have a louse that seems to get off pretty easy. That's the way this life is, even though we are under the care of a sovereign, provident God. This life is filled with unexpected trials. And in verse 2, he points to the grand example of this truth. Death. Death comes to all-the righteous and the wicked, the good man and the evil man, the faithful worshipper and the slothful non-worshipper, the good man and the sinner, the loyal covenant keeper and the disloyal covenant breaker. In light of the reality of universal death, he's saying, "You've got to have an answer for meaning in life that makes sense."

Death, the author of Ecclesiastes says, is the judgment of God. Look at verse 3. This universal death that impacts even those who are God's people, is viewed by the Preacher as something that is not natural. Dying is a great evil. Not just because it's bad to be dead, but because dying is a sign of God's judgment. It is a moral judgment against the rebellion of evil men. The doctrine of total depravity is found there in verse 3 as well. And because of this, the Preacher views death as a pervasive evil. Death is not viewed as a natural phenomenon, but as a moral evil. His point is to strip away the sentimentalized view that death is a transition into another state of blessedness. "No," he says, "there is no eternal blessedness then for the man who does not know blessedness now." And you only know blessedness now in living, saving relationship with the God of providence, through Christ, whose death removed the sting of death for all who will trust in Him.

Respond to the Uncertainties of Life, Biblically

Look at verses 7-10. He wants us to view the twists and turns of this life biblically, because, the Christian's confident trust in God's providence frees him to enjoy God's gifts. It saves him from being paralyzed by the trials of this life.

How do you respond to the sober truth like you find in verses 1-6? If you love God, if you believe in God's special providence, you enjoy what you have. You receive it as His gift to you, as His evidence of blessing and favor. You savor the comforts of this life, appreciative to the God who has given them to you. You enjoy your wife and your marriage. You work with zeal because there is no work in death. You do it with all your might, all your thought, all your knowledge, all your skill. You are contented in the lot that God has given you now, and you work out of a realization that God has approved you by His grace.

Respond to the Rejection of Wisdom, Biblically and Realistically

And then, in verses 11-18, as those who have been made, by His grace, wise and righteous, we must also recognize that we need to respond to the rejection of wisdom, biblically and realistically. In verse 11, he stresses that wisdom has its limits. In verses 13-16, he gives us a story about how sometimes wisdom goes unheeded. And so he says to us, "You have, by God's grace, been made wise and righteous. Don't expect anybody to pat you on the back for that." Don't look for your ultimate reward here, for though wisdom is indeed superior to folly, sometimes it's ignored and sometimes it's thwarted by sinners. Verses 17 and 18 assert that, wisdom is superior, but that's no guarantee that wisdom will be accepted by fools. And so he says we need to approach life, expecting the unexpected and the frustrations of this life to impact us. Yet, they are not God. The frustrations of this life are not in control; God is in control.

And when you look at life and those trials that catch you off guard, and you look at them in light of a sovereign God caring for His children, it makes all the difference in the world. A life apart from God cannot but be empty. A life through the lenses of His providence, and even the trials of life, seem to be meaningful, and the enjoyments of life for the first time become possible. May God grant us to seek our meaning in Him and so face all the uncertainties of life and the final certainties of life, with equal confidence and joy.

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.