After declaring everything to be meaningless, Solomon asked a piercing question: What does a man gain for all his efforts that he labors at under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:3)
Everyone pursues something, labors for something, works for something. And Solomon’s point was that all the labor under the sun is meaningless because there really is no gain, no profit in the end.
For those of us who strive and labor for accomplishments in this life, he wrote:
A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets; panting, it returns to its place where it rises. Gusting to the south, turning to the north, turning, turning, goes the wind, and the wind returns in its cycles. All the streams flow to the sea, yet the sea is never full. The streams are flowing to the place, and they flow there again. (Verses 4-7)
There is a stream near my neighborhood that I run by and ride by with the kids on our bikes. It was there generations before me. Lots of people have stared into that stream thinking about their big plans for life, thinking about their goals and the things they want to accomplish. Those people come and go. That stream keeps flowing. The stream outlasts us, and even the stream doesn’t accomplish much. It works really hard to push water to the sea, but the sea is never full. If the stream’s striving is futile, our striving is more so.
All our effort, under the sun, is futile. The reason for the futility is found in Romans 8:20:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
God cursed creation because of our sin and subjected it to futility. But He also gave creation hope, that there will be a day when all things will be made new. When Christ returns, He will rescue all of creation from futility. And the same One who will rescue all of creation can rescue us from futility now.
Instead of laboring under the sun, we can rest in the Jesus who came here for us, who did all the work for us on the cross. Jesus gives us rest from our labor and rescues us from futility in this life. When we rest in Him, everything has meaning. He transforms the meaningless into the meaningful.
And now, because of Him, we are free to strive as His power works in us. We are free to work hard at doing good, knowing our labor is not in vain. We have been rescued from foolishly attempting to fill the ocean. We can make an impact as members of His kingdom, not as ones who only labor under the sun.