Ecclesiastes frees us to hold life like a bird. In my golf days, I was told by an instructor to, “Hold the club like a bird. Not so loose that it flies away, but not so tight that it dies.” If you hold a golf club too loosely, it could fly into a lake! If you put a death-grip on it, you’ll “pull” your shots inward, way off target.
Ecclesiastes is bookended by, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” (Ecc. 1:2; 12:8). The word “vanity” is repeated 19 times in the book and means “breath, vapor, pointless, meaningless, empty.” It describes earthly life “under the sun.” Some may wonder, “If it’s all meaningless, why does it even matter what we do? Why not just stay in bed all day?” This view holds life too loosely. Others might say, “I don’t buy it! If I work hard, live it up, and experience everything life has to offer, I can find meaning and fulfillment here!” This view holds life too tightly.
Without God, you can’t hold life like a bird. You’re forced to hold it too loosely or too tightly. Only God can give us the proper perspective and balance. That’s what Solomon means when he says things like, “Who can eat and who can have enjoyment without God?” (2:25) and “As for every man whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.” (5:19).
People who hold life too loosely can’t enjoy it to the fullest because they don’t care about anything. When you lay around in bed all day and do the bare minimum because nothing matters, that’s pretty miserable! People who hold life too tightly can’t enjoy it either because they’re too upset it’s not giving them the deep satisfaction they want. They have life in a headlock saying, “You will give me true, deep, lasting fulfillment,” but it’s not happening!
All throughout Ecclesiastes, we’re urged to fear God and keep His commandments (5:7; 8:12-13; 12:13). When we have God, it sets us free to hold life like a bird. Our grip on life isn’t so loose we live like nothing matters here. But it’s not so tight we live like everything matters here. It matters how we live, not because it removes life’s vanity, but because God says it matters.
Under the sun, God frees us from living like nothing matters and like everything matters.
We still live wisely (2:13), we still work hard (2:24; 9:10), we still worship God in reverence (5:1-7), build good reputations (7:1), obey our leaders (8:4), love our spouses (9:9), and make smart investments (11:1). We don’t let these things fly away with too loose a grip. But we also don’t try to force them to fill the eternal void in our souls (3:11). How liberating! When God fills the void in our souls, we can let earthly things be earthly things: temporary treasures to enjoy and trials to endure on our way to our true home beyond the sun.