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When Work Seems Meaningless


It’s been reported that after the Dallas Cowboys won their first Super Bowl, legendary football coach Tom Landry observed, “The overwhelming emotion—in a few days, among the players—was how empty that goal was. There must be something more.”

The Cowboys were not the first ones to learn that great professional success isn’t necessarily coupled with deep satisfaction. The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us this is an ancient experience. He was the king of Israel and yet writes: “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (1:14).

He is a conflicted soul as demonstrated via his arguments, often with himself, throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. It is particularly acute where work is concerned. In Ecclesiastes 2:11 he writes, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” In chapter 3 we read, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God,” (vv. 12–13). But that optimism is short-lived: “And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (4:4).

Many people resonate with this cycle of enthusiasm and despair regarding their own labor. But the inclusion of this book in the Bible teaches us that God hears our troubles, that He acknowledges them, that He is not indifferent to the small frictions that loom large in our lives.

Apply the Word

The phrase “under the sun” appears in this book 29 times. Does this reinforce the pointlessness of work with an image of the sun circling endlessly across the sky while nothing ever changes? Or does it refer to a world beyond the Fall, not “under the sun,” where work would not be in vain? Keep this question in mind as you read Ecclesiastes.

BY Lisa Ann Cockrel

Lisa Ann Cockrel graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 2000. She has worked in publishing with Christian magazines, including MOODY magazine and Today's Christian Woman, and now works as an editor for Brazos Press and Baker Academic, part of the Baker Publishing Group. She lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she is actively involved with faith and culture projects. Her writing has been published in Christianity Today, Outreach, and Faithful Reader, among others.

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