What is our purpose in life?
For as long as mankind has lived on the earth, people have asked the questions.
“Why am I here?”
“What am I supposed to be doing?”
“What is the meaning of life?”
Who can answer these questions? Who can we go to and say, “tell me the meaning of life”?
Someday we will be face-to-face with God and can ask Him. Then, however, it will be too late to do anything about it. We need to know now – right now – what our purpose in life is, so that we can be doing what we are supposed to be doing today and tomorrow.
We can’t ask this question to just anyone. We need to ask it to a wise person – a supernaturally wise person. But where can we find this man or woman?
There is one man that can tell us what we want to know. He is not alive now, but he wrote a great deal on the subject. He was a wise man, but more than that he was the wisest man who ever lived. He was granted supernatural wisdom by God. His insight on this question is invaluable.
Solomon lived about 950 B.C. After the death of the famous King David of Israel, Solomon ascended the throne. God asked him what he wanted, saying that He would grant him his desire. Of all the things Solomon could ask for – money, fame, power, long life – he asked for something very simple. Solomon told God that he wanted wisdom so that he could rule the people well. God granted that desire, and Solomon became the wisest man to ever walk the earth.
Solomon was a man who had it all and did it all. During his life, the Kingdom of Israel reached its height of power. It may have been the most powerful and the wealthiest nation on earth at the time. Solomon became fabulously wealthy. People bearing gifts came from far away countries to hear his wisdom, including the famous Queen of Sheba.
Solomon wrote many books. He investigated nature. He built a powerful army. He built a fleet of merchant ships that sailed the Indian Ocean. He initiated agricultural and mining endeavors. He built the first Temple in Jerusalem, one of the wonders of the ancient world.
What did Solomon have to say about it?
So, what does wise Solomon have to say about the meaning of life?
In one of the books he wrote, the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, Solomon writes “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13).
The book of Ecclesiastes can be one of the most depressing books you’ve ever read, until you understand it. Solomon speaks of the many things he has done, and the many pursuits that people engage in during their lives, and calls it all “vanity.” “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” Solomon writes again and again. All these things that we pour our hearts and souls into are “vanity” he says. All of it is worthless and amounts to nothing.
When the wisest person who ever lived speaks, we should listen. When Solomon says that all of these endeavors that we pour our hearts into is “vanity,” we should take heed. Solomon did it all and had it all. Let’s listen to him.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Solomon writes of all the vanities of life, then tells us “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter.” He’s wrapping up all of his thoughts expressed in Ecclesiastes. His conclusion is “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
“Fear” is used in its older, original sense in the language of the King James Bible. It doesn’t just mean to “be afraid” as it does today. The old word “fear” means to have a deep reverence and respect for something, to be loyal to and to love something. We are to have a deep reverence, respect, and love for God. We are to be faithful to Him.
Solomon tells us also to “keep His commandments.” We are to be obedient to God. We are to discover His will and “just do it.”
Essentially, Solomon tells us that our duty in life is to simply reverence, love, and obey God.
“It can’t be that simple,” one might say. “There must be more to life than that. There must be some other way to find meaning!”
“Vanity of vanities . . .”
Solomon had it all. Solomon was exceedingly wealthy. He had gold, silver, and all other precious things in abundance. Did Solomon find meaning and purpose in his wealth, or in the pursuit of wealth? No. He said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity . . .”
Some folks today seek meaning and purpose in political pursuits and causes. Solomon was at the height of political power. He was the King of the most powerful, the richest nation on earth. What he said was law. Nobody dared oppose him. Still, he found no purpose and meaning in politics “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity . . .”
Some folks seek purpose and fulfillment in sex. To some folks today, including prominent leaders, that seems to be an all-consuming pursuit. What about Solomon? Solomon had 900 women literally at his disposal any time, anywhere, for anything he wanted. If he had wanted another woman, he only had to say the word. Not only did his lust for sex fail to fulfill him, it was part of his downfall in the end. His mistake in “collecting” 900 women was his undoing. God made man to be with one woman, and God made woman to be with one man. Not 900, not 100, not 10, but one — one man and one woman living as one flesh. God blesses one man and one woman living in a marriage relationship. Outside of that singular relationship, sex is outside of God’s will, and people who violate the marital institution with sex before marriage or sex outside of marriage – like Solomon – will find it to be their undoing. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity . . .”
Many seek purpose and meaning in the acquisition of knowledge, in learning, in science. Solomon sought there, too. Solomon spent his life learning, teaching, and writing. Did he find meaning there? He wrote, “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity . . .”
Commercial efforts? Solomon engaged in many wildly successful commercial endeavors. Did he find meaning and fulfillment in them? “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity . . .”
What about power and might? No enemy could stand before Solomon’s armies. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity . . .”
Solomon had it all – he had all of the wealth and fame one could ever desire. He did it all. Anything he wanted to do, he did. But in the end, all of these pursuits were “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity . . . ”
He did not say that these pursuits were necessarily bad. There is nothing wrong with sex inside the marriage relationship. Commercial endeavors are not bad. The pursuit of learning, study, and writing of books is not bad or wrong. Political causes and political careers are not inherently bad. However, placing undue importance on any of these things – seeking fulfillment and purpose in any of them – is wrong, and if we do so we will always end up disappointed, unfulfilled, and still searching for the meaning of life.
Solomon, the man who had it all and did it all, the man who was supernaturally wise, the man whose wealth and power are still spoken of and marveled at 3000 years later, found no meaning in all of his earthly pursuits.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter.”
Everything we seem to pour our hearts into is vanity, meaningless. Only one thing matters for eternity; there is only one way to find fulfillment and meaning in life. “Fear God,” reverence God, love God, and respect Him for His power, for His love for us, for His glory, for His compassion. “. . . and keep His commandments . . .” Obey God. Search the Bible for His will. Spend hours in prayer with Him and in the study of and meditation on His Word. Find out what He wants you to do with your life, and do it. Surrender yourself and your will to Him.
“. . . for this is the whole duty of man.”