Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]
There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.
What’s there to show for a lifetime of work,
a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
but nothing changes— it’s business as usual for
old planet earth
The good news for the Quester in Ecclesiastes is that he presents meaningful knowledge. What he says is a true and honest reflection of life. It resonates with us. It carries weight, and, as such, it points to something important. The fact that we can think and can express our observations and experiences of meaninglessness in a meaningful way suggests the possibility of spiritual sight. If human beings were absolutely devoid of meaning, they would not be conscious of meaninglessness. In some way, and for some reason, we can compare what we see and experience with something that is different, an image of perfect truth and meaning. Our inner being has knowledge of a homeland to which we want to return to.
Our only meaningful option in life is a journey of growing faith – seeing the unseen. Faith is not blind belief in something impossible, and it is not in opposition to reason. But faith rests on evidence of a higher order than what we can see, hear, taste or feel. Faith is action inspired by knowledge of the heart. Based on our faith we act, notwithstanding the lack of physical evidence or motivation that our actions will result in a specific outcome.
Whichever way we look at it, we live to a higher or lesser degree in faith. Nobody knows one bit about the future. But we get out of bed in the morning with the belief that we will be able to do whatever we plan for the day. In faith, we take our next step. Not that one would hear a lot about faith in social interactions. One can expect to hear much more about man’s latest actions to control the world and its destiny. We feel indeed much more comfortable with the idea of being in control than having to put our faith into something or someone. If we can find a way to silence the ‘what if’ question in our minds, we prefer to do so rather than facing the uncertainty. Anxiety is our enemy because it threatens our sense of control and it tests our faith.
The extent to which we are willing to face the depth or strength of our faith depends, unfortunately, mostly on the situations we find ourselves in. We are, for instance, normally quite comfortable to put our faith in the mechanical reliability of our cars, our own ability to avoid an accident and the road behaviour of other motorists – even as we drive past an accident. We might have had an accident ourselves and still would take on the roads with cars driving at speed towards us the next day. If, however, our beloved partner died in the accident, the question about faith stares us squarely and unavoidably in the face. What is going to happen to me? How will I be able to go on with my life? What is the meaning of life? Where is God? Is there a God? If there is a God, what can I trust him for? Where do I belong?
These are questions of meaning. Who am I if everything around me is taken away from me – despite my efforts to control my world? What we long for in such desperate times is to be eternally safe, secure and loved. Nothing in the material world, no man, no amount of wealth or anything else, can provide the answer to this need. It is only through faith in the incarnated God (Immanuel, God with us) that we can find our way back to the place we deeply yearn for, and yet so easily can dismiss in our conscious mind. As we grow in this faith, we are transformed to higher levels of meaningful living, both for ourselves and through what we can give, for others. This journey of growing in faith does not exclude sometimes extended times of doubt – as all people of faith can testify. Our bondage to the physical world will always, and particularly in times of adversity, make us doubt our own hearts and ask for something more tangible to hold on to. In such times of spiritual drought the roots of our faith necessarily need to grow deeper for sustenance. We only realise later that our faith was strengthened even at the time we felt it was fading away completely.
When we greet and ask each other ‘how do you do?’, we have the opportunity to encourage each other on our journey of faith. Rich or poor, famous or unknown, influential or unimportant, achieving or failing, self-assured or faint-hearted, we stand equally vulnerable before the next moment. Keep the faith!