Grasping for the Wind

King Solomon, one of the wisest men ever to walk the earth, says that almost every activity on earth is meaningless:

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes . . .

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.

(Ecclesiastes 1)

Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, this wise man tells us a number of things that are meaningless.  For example:

Everything worldly people seek after is vanity.
A grasping for the wind.

And just in case we think there are some worthwhile pursuits in this world, the wise preacher begins and ends the book with the all-encompassing reminder that  “All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12:8)

All of your worldly hopes, dreams, aspirations, desires, and ambitions are meaningless.  

That career you want to build?  Meaningless.
That book you want to write?  Meaningless.
That famous song you want to compose?  Meaningless.
That retirement account you want to build?  Meaningless.
Those vacations you want to enjoy?  Meaningless.

None of these things are meaningful,
because none of these things will last into eternity.

There is one thing,
and one thing alone,
that has genuine value.

There is one thing,
and one thing alone,
with which to concern yourself.

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:

Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.

For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.

(Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)


This is day three of the 40 Days of Blogging.
For more articles on “vanity“, check out these bloggers.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in 1 Kings 3:5-13, 40 Days of Blogging, Ecclesiastes 1, Ecclesiastes 11, Ecclesiastes 12, Ecclesiastes 2, Ecclesiastes 5, Ecclesiastes 6. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Grasping for the Wind

  1. tpkatsa says:

    “All of your worldly hopes, dreams, aspirations, desires, and ambitions are meaningless.”

    As a sidebar question: is the evil that men do ultimately as meaningless as the good that men do? Or is it only the good that becomes meaningless because “all is vanity?”

    I don’t think that the Preacher meant – that all of these things are in and of themselves meaningless, and that the only thing that has lasting meaning is “fearing God.” [Whatever is meant by that]. What we do on earth is meaningless if not within the context of “the fear of (belief in, reverence for) God.” Many things meaningless if not done out of love. Yes there is eternal meaning but there is also lasting meaning here on earth, given that we will give an account for the things we have done on earth.

    For example, St. Paul says that if a man doesn’t work he doesn’t eat. The laborer should be paid for his wages, and so on. So there is obviously goodness in an honest day’s work. We are not created to be bums – Proverbs condemns sloth. But work cannot be honorable nor can sloth be condemned if all acts are ultimately meaningless. Worse yet, if all actions are ultimately meaningless then the evildoer and the righteous both have identical fates. Good and evil become ultimately meaningless.

    Shall I stop buying birthday presents for my child because that is ultimately meaningless? Should I stop visiting the sick because that is ultimately meaningless? Is feeding the hungry ultimately meaningless? Wait a minute, “if you do these to the least of my brethren, you’ve done them unto Me…”

    Because Christ is Risen, what we do becomes meaningful.

    It is more accurate to say that without God, what we do is ultimately meaningless. The atheist physician has to acknowledge that as meaningful as healing the day’s patients has been, if there is no God ultimately his job is meaningless.

    It is not so much the fear of God that gives our earthly life ultimate meaning, but rather ultimate meaning is conferred by God’s very existence. It is Christ’s Resurrection that guarantees ultimate meaning – and if I may add judgment – both to what we do on earth and what we will do in the Kingdom to come.

    • Holy Scripture says the crucial thing is to fear God and keep His commandments. Jesus said if you love him, you will keep his commandments. So fearing God and loving God apparently go hand in hand.

      Yes, I agree context is important. All earthly pursuits are meaningless in themselves, and for their own sakes. But anything done for Christ takes on eternal significance.

      For example, Scripture even says that having many children can be meaningless (Ecclesiastes 6:3). If a parent just has lots of children for the sake of worldly influence, for the sake of perpetuating their name for future generations, then their parenting is vanity. However, if parents are careful to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and the result is multiple generations of faithful Orthodox Christians, then Heaven itself is filled and eternity is affected for the better.

      The point of Ecclesiastes is that all earthly pursuits are vanity on their own. But if we do everything we do with the fear and love of God, then our every action is significant and meaningful.

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