Ceaseless change and perpetual sameness

What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?  A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.  The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.  All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. (Ecclesiastes 1:3-8)

The Preacher gives us four illustrations from nature to show us the absurdity of life lived under the sun, apart from a consideration of God.

  1. People go and people come, but nothing is really improved on the earth. A very few people are remembered generations later, most of us will just fade off into oblivion in the memories of those who follow after us.
  2. The sun follows the same course every day. It comes up, it goes down, and then it pants and toils to go around the earth to rise again the next day. It does this over and over again, every day, every week, every month, every year, every decade, every century, every millenium, just as we do in our daily grind, day after day after day.
  3. The wind might seem to have some change and newness to it, but it doesn’t. It might seem to be random, but it is rather changeless the same in its randomness.
  4. The most absurd example from nature, though, is the sea. All the rivers in the world end up in the seas, but they never fill it up, nor do the rivers empty. How could this be?

All these examples are meant to show the contradiction that will be addressed throughout the book. What we think should happen and the reality that does happen are so consistently different than each other that we almost have to laugh, it’s so absurd.

The Preacher wants us to see what he has seen so that we realize the emptiness of our own pursuits, we who are just as much a part of the creation as the other parts of reality that he has used to illustrate this truth. Keep this in mind as you continue on with me in the Preacher’s quest.


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