Ecclesiastes and the Post-Modern Teen: Life is Vanity…
Follow along with us this week and next as we delve into various aspects of the book of Ecclesiastes, and the many ways it speaks to the life of the post-modern teenager.
Postmodernism is defined as “largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality.” For these reasons, teenagers today have been described as “the loophole generation.” They don’t think in absolutes.
Yet the book of Ecclesiastes ends with a fairly absolute exhortation:
“Fear God and keep his commandments.”
It seems almost too simple of a conclusion for a book on the study of all things. Is this short phrase the summation of the “whole duty of man”? Can it really be that simple? I believe that it can, and that we as humans over-complicate the situation. We toil and seek after personal pleasures, wisdom, honor, or wealth, but we miss the most important thing in this short life: to fear God and keep his commandments. The writer of Ecclesiastes gets it right. After reviewing all that the Teacher had taught, after all had been heard, the truth came screaming to the top. Pursuing God far outweighs anything else this world has to offer.
Today’s world is full of all the things that the Teacher himself pursued in Ecclesiastes. The pursuit of wisdom, self-indulgence, work, wealth, and honor are all around us. They bombard not only adults but teenagers as well. The immense pressure that is upon our teens to be “successful” is crippling, often leaving them with broken dreams and shattered hopes once reality sets in.
A central theme of Ecclesiastes is vanity. In fact, the word appears thirty-seven times throughout the book. The word vanity denotes breath or vapor, both of which don’t last very long at all. We strive in vain because we can’t take anything with us after death; we seek wisdom in vain, because wisdom only causes us more grief and angst. All that we have and do on earth seems to come in vain. The pursuit of good grades, an online following, perfect looks, the best college, the right friends, and the best possible plans for Friday night are in vain. What do all of those likes really mean? What is the Snap-streak really accomplishing? Is it not all vanity?
When all of life is just a breath in the grand scheme of eternity, what (if anything) can we do that holds meaning and value?
According to the Teacher, fearing God and keeping His commandments are the only efforts that stand to satisfy that question. Ironically, in Proverbs, Solomon states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (1:7). How often are we confused into pursuing things of little value that this world props up for us, instead of seeking the things of God.
In today’s post-modern world, teens are blasted with the illusion that if they make it big, whether that be in sports, money, or fame (or the whole trifecta) then they’ll be happy. The author of Ecclesiastes teaches a different story. He pursued all of these things – immediate pleasures – and compared them all to chasing after the wind. (If you haven’t tried to catch the wind lately, then let me tell you, it’s impossible, slips right through your fingers.) Out teens will learn, one way or another, that pursuing happiness based on these things will only leave them broken, frustrated, and empty.
What God’s people must learn over and over again in scripture, and what our teens so desperately need to know is this: the only thing that remains, the only thing that has purpose and truth here and now is to know and love God. In him – in Christ – is our only satisfaction.
It is imperative that we get this message across to teenagers today: all else is vanity.
To fear God is to hold Him in extreme reverence and submit to Him as Lord. To obey all that He commanded is summed up by Jesus in the New Testament. “Love the Lord your God with all of you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Jesus commands us here just as the Teacher does at the conclusion of Ecclesiastes: know and love God with everything we have, our whole being.
What if this were our students’ primary pursuit?
Follow along with us this week as we continue to unpack these rich themes within the book of Ecclesiastes.