“Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” Viktor E. Frankl, Austrian Neurologist, Survivor of the Holocaust & Author of Man’s Search for Meaning.
After years of much learning through observation, research and experimentation, the wisest king who ever lived made a simple yet troubling conclusion on life: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12:8). Unlike Frankl, this is not the musings of a suffering sage, this is the wisdom of a pleasure-seeking monarch. Solomon lived in a time of peace and he gave expression to whatever desire he had. Apart from being the king of Israel, he built such an impeccable organization that drew the attention of distant civilizations, that came en masse to witness the rarity of his intelligence, and his palace became a museum of sort for political excursions.
Hence, it is neither poverty nor fatality that made Solomon to pen this brutally candid treatise on the meaninglessness that chokes all of life and sucks out any kind of enduring pleasure or fulfilment in it. This was a man in his right senses. Fully engaged in the business of steering a kingdom and perhaps producing blueprints for political advancement, yet his innermost being could not dismiss a deep-seated dissatisfaction he had with life.
Vanity or meaninglessness is an inescapable reality that challenges your experience of life, regardless of your position, status, education, religion, race, culture etc. It seems to me that once you are born into this world, the question of meaning begins to confront you at some point in life and it never leaves you until you settle it. Usually, when this inner craving for meaning begins, we misrepresent it as a desire for something we don’t have like a job, house, car, spouse, children, vacation, wealth, position, education, status and so on.
Your experience of life by now, should have proven you wrong except that you will not learn that lesson with one or a few instances in your own experience. You will maintain that you are feeling like that because there is something else that you don’t have. And when you get that thing, you will be excited! Your dream is coming to pass. But “…oh no, the feeling is back!” The dream becomes a nightmare. “Why am I feeling like this in spite of having ‘this and that’?
You feel like that because you think the things you get in life (as listed previously) are the producers of joy and fulfilment (the two key indicators of meaning/purpose). Even as beautiful as positive relationships can be (which happens to be more satisfactory than personal achievements), that in themselves cannot clear the dark cloud of vanity that rests forcefully on the human spirit. There is something beyond this cloud, beyond this darkness that has the answer to the persistent tugging upon your heart, the struggle to understand life, even your own life, and perhaps to reconcile the paradoxes of life.
Light. Not just enlightenment but divine illumination. The human soul has great potentialities and it does get some glimmers of light every once in a while. But the problem with that is, this light is not sufficient to clear the cloud of uncertainty and vanity off of your spirit. These kinds of lights are lights that helps you to make sense of life within the status quo or larger context of darkness. That’s like having a lit candle or torchlight to see your way in the house at night when there is no electricity. If there is power supply, then in the context of the house, there is no darkness, but what about outside the house? Even with the streetlights and all the lighting systems of modern and postmodern civilization, they do not deal with the larger darkness. They only take care of the immediate need for sight (vision) but does not change the night to day.
Philosophers, psychologists and scientists generally have some good things to say and have made great contributions to the experience of life but you must know that this is offering a little light in the larger context of darkness. Although, with these great disciplines, man has discovered a lot about himself and his environment, yet he has not resolved the mystery of his reason for being. The questions of “Who am I?” (identity), “Why am I here?” (purpose), “Where am I going?” (destiny) are questions that require a penetrating illumination from above the cloud of vanity that buffets man. When this illumination occurs, there is a link between heaven and earth, and a privileged “trafficking” will commence that totally shorts out the “vanity of vanities” that afflict mankind. The only thing that has penetrated this globalized sense of meaninglessness, and has pierced the unfortunate cloud of vanity upon humanity is the cross.
The cross of Jesus Christ, creating a permanent vertical link between you and heaven, that horizontally (instantly) goes into your past to deal with the hurts, painful memories, sufferings and adversity, removing its sting and poison from afflicting you in the present, and charts a course of destiny ahead of you that does not only meet your expectations but exceeds your longing for joy, fulfilment and purposefulness.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
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