This Meaningless Life

Background photo from Tyler Callahan. Series header designed in Canva.

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth part of a four-part series on suffering. Click here for part one. Click here for part two. Click here for part three. Click here for a playlist full of songs from this series and inspired by the messages.


It’s a wild world, we’re all trying to find our place in it.

It’s a wild world and no one seems to understand it.

It’s a wild world but there ain’t no way I’m gonna quit it.

Love is all I’ve got to give away.

Wild World, Drew Holcomb

As our series and Ecclesiastes winds down, I have the ninth chapter playing in my head. “So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” (9:1-2b) We spoke of this during week 1. Life is meaningless and it ends in death. We do good and we do evil. Good is done to us and evil is done to us. What is the point?

I have a chronic, perhaps terminal disease: depression. It is part of what lends me to speak often about lament; my brain is better at processing sorrow than joy. I think often of death, what it might mean to finally be done with the river of time. If you missed my Easter message from this past spring, I’d encourage to read it and then come back. The notion of heaven is wonderful because it provides us with some sense of relief, an opportunity to sit without our anger and division, to simply be under a tin roof as the rain falls and covers us like a hug in the sound of peace. There is some joy in what the author tells us in verse 6 “Never again will (the dead) have a part in anything that happens under the sun.” We will no longer have to toil under the sun or wear masks or bury our loved ones. Yet, in the context of the chapter, the author is not joyous as I am reading it; he is sad.

The full context of that verse is this: “Anyone who is among the living has hope – even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.” Perhaps, then, there is still something worthwhile about the human experience. Our joy molds the meaning of our suffering and our suffering gives us context by which to judge our joy as good. Perhaps our names label more than our bodies but give voice to our experiences. We toil so that we may rest. Sometimes we ebb. Sometimes we flow.

We spoke of this during week 2: life is a river that we just have to jump into. As much as we try to mold our experience, our plans turn to dust. Indeed we know what is written in verse 11 is true: “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” Life shapes our context; we do not shape our lives. Life happens and our task is to make the meaningless life meaningful. “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your (spouse), whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun – all your meaningless days.” (9:7-10).

One way in which we make meaning out of our meaningless days is through our walk with people. We spoke of this during week 3. We are to suffer together as one body, to root out the nature of suffering rather than our enemies in each other. As we learn to see the face of God in every person we encounter, we find people to bring to our tables to feast beside and get drunk with. Our lives are ash sifting through an hourglass. Let’s enjoy it by enduring it as long as we can.

The war has already been won; our bodies are destined for relaxation under a tin roof. Yet here we are for now. I will raise my cup to drink with you, pick up my knife only to give you bread. I will try to fight for liberation for the best of us and I will try to fight for liberation for the bitter worst. I will suffer under the toil of my labor and I will stretch out under the joy of my harvest. Better days are behind and ahead of me. Better days are all around me.

Thank you for being stuck in this meaningless river at the same time as me.

(Breathe in)

Give us this day our daily bread

(Breathe out)

As I seek to enjoy this life

(Breathe in)

Surround me with people I love

(Breathe out)

As I make my way toward a feast.


Verses quoted in this post come from he NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible published by Zondervan whose notes were helpful in writing this post. Notes in the NRSV The Harper Collins Study Bible published by Harper One were also used. Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page). Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram or Goodreads.

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