How did mankind’s lot in this life become a “miserable task” as the HCSB has it (“unhappy business” ESV)? Who made it this way?
Though our first gut response would be to blame that serpent, Satan, as they did in the garden, we would be mistaken. The Preacher here tells us, that this unhappy business is given to us by God (v. 13). What are we to make of this? Has the Lord plunged us in to utter vanity and hopelessness?
Romans 8:20-21 explains it to us. “For the creation was subjected to futility (vanity in the words of the Preacher), not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free form its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
So creation (including mankind) is subject to futility, emptiness, vanity against what it and we desire, but this subjection to futility is done “in hope”. Again, Satan does not subject the creation in the hope it would be set free, no, God is the one who subjects it. Why? For the hope of the glorious freedom from corruption for both creation and the children of God.
Oh, what glorious news! God is undoing all this despairing talk of the vanity of all things in this world. In Jesus Christ, there is hope, there is meaning, there is freedom from corruption and futility. Sin’s taint on this world and on our hearts will be washed clean. For a little while things are as the writer of Ecclesiastes observes them, but it will not be so forever. We groan even now for the full delivery of the things promised. Much pain and vanity must be endured, but in Christ, there is hope!
Lord, thank you that you are at work setting this world free from the futility that sin has brought to us. Thank you that your Son came to this world to undo the destructive consequences of our sin. Thank you that your curse on sinners is laid on Christ for all who repent and believe in Him. Help us to be ambassadors of this hope in a futile world. Amen.