I used to think Ecclesiastes was the Adelle album of the Biblical catalog: nice prose, smooth sound, but, for the love of life, more depressing than Wuthering Heights times Old Yeller.
However, as I've aged I've come to understand and see the comfort in the book.
"Vapor, vapor, all is vapor" Qoheleth ponders. "What gain is there in toil?" he inquires.
Yet, in a turn that is raucous against the potential, and perhaps in the case of Ecclesiastes, acceptable negativity of futile ambitions, there is a turn toward the value of what is core to worthwhile reality. The last breath of the book asks the young man to "Respect the Lord and keep his commandments."
He has spent miles of ink laying out the futility of grand ambition for men and their desires for power, women, wealth, and even wisdom. They won't fill the cup of his greatest desires. Those thirsts are wearisome and never quench quenchable.
The answer to joy is much simpler. Rest in relation to God. Rest in the world he has given. It is so simple and yet so...well, not simple.
In chapter 2 of the same chapter he writes: "A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God."
I still have goals, things I believe truly important to attempt accomplishing. However, at the end of the day its the joy of "nothing at all really," mundane things, that birth joy and meaning.
Playing chase and dinosaurs each day with my son is a gift. Watching Frozen with my daughter 20 times a week pleases God...and may still be slightly toilsome.
The last few years have made the mundane magical. Every breath, taste of Trolley Stop Pizza, sip of Tennessee's finest sweet tea, stealing glances at my wife's emerald green eyes which still stun me, and bedtime with my children are God's simplest and clearest gestures of joy toward me. In Ecclesiastes, to those who pursue simplicity God gives wisdom. To those who pursue gathering and storing up wealth he gives the sorrow of handing those things over to others.
My friend Matt Conner told me about this song linked at the top. Its "Joy of Nothing" by Foy Vance. I think if Qoheleth had an acoustic guitar and nice recording studio he might have just written this song and produced this video. It captures nicely why I'm thankful for "nothing at all really."