I read recently about a billionaire who is investing in technology with the hopes of discovering the secret to immortality. It’s not a new thing, wanting to live forever, as we learn from Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon saw all the meaninglessness of life and wanted to know how to avoid it. The vanity of life, as he understood it, was the reality of death. No matter what he did, no matter how much wisdom he had or how much money he saved or spent, this mortal life would come to an end.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 focuses our attention on the topic of wisdom. “I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.” The Biblical idea of wisdom is not merely a good or thoughtful idea. Wisdom can also be translated as skill that built strength you can use quotes about strength for built your strength again. Solomon speaks here of all that he did with all his skill and resources to understand what is done under heaven. He goes on to say, “It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.”

This is his conclusion, but we might rush over it too quickly. If we’re cynical, we might be quick to agree with him. This world is full of wickedness, and maybe it’s that God doesn’t actually care. I have heard this statement from more than a few unbelievers as they face difficulties. If God exists, they say, then surely, he wouldn’t make them go through whatever they are facing. Others hear Solomon’s answer and seek to soften the suffering of this life. This is often a westernized version of the Gospel where God’s desire for his people is happiness and a suffering free life. On this view, God becomes as helpless as we are.

This verse, though, gives us insight into what Solomon is doing. The phrase ‘children of man’ is actually ‘the sons of Adam.’ It’s the same wording used to speak of God making Adam from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). Here he is drawing our attention back to the opening chapters of Genesis senior yearbook quotes. Why is this world broken? Why is death so prevalent? The answer is the Fall of man. This is further underscored when we know that the ‘unhappy business’ is a kind of ‘cursed ground’ language. It reminds us of Genesis 3, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Solomon looks at the world and declares, “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.” Solomon makes us very uncomfortable. We like answers; we like thinking that we can make things better. And sometimes we can. But the reality is that life has become crooked due to the curse and there is nothing that we can do to straighten it. Solomon reminds us that we need one who is greater. Jesus is the very wisdom of God who is greater than Solomon (Luke 11:31). The Gospel of God’s grace is true wisdom because it provides what we need to answer the meaninglessness of life (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

Ecclesiastes is a helpful book because it gives language to our ache in this world. Try as we might, we cannot live in this world forever. If I could speak to the billionaire who is trying to find the secret, I would explain to him the mercy that God gave when he closed Adam and Eve off to the Tree of Life in Genesis 3. He didn’t want them to live forever in that fallen estate. For them to do so would have been an eternity separated from God’s presence. God’s plans for his people are greater than even Solomon could know. He sought to find the answer to the vanity of life, but all he could see was vanity multiply. The truth is that this is often our experience as well. There are no quick answers or easy solutions. Augustine reminds us, “They, then, who are destined to die, need not be careful to inquire what death they are to die, but into what place death will usher them.”