Some Answers for the Frustrated


I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness” (Ecclesiastes 3:16).

Much of what the Preacher discusses in Ecclesiastes is based on his observations about life. Repeatedly he uses the phrase “I have seen…” or “I saw under the sun…” (3:10, 16, et al.). His observations were partly the result of an intentional effort to understand. “I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven” (1:13). “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (2:11). Of all the truths he learned, one stands out—“all is vanity.”

The sense of futility that seems to underlie much of the message of Ecclesiastes is, therefore, a result of seeing life as it is. Life in itself often seems meaningless and without purpose. More than that, at times “life under the sun” is marked by a sense of frustration.

There are plenty of things in this life that cause us to become frustrated, even angry, not the least of which is the prevalence of injustice, unrighteousness, and the oppression of the weak by the powerful. “Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness” (3:16). “Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them!” (4:1). Underlying all of this are envy, selfish ambition, and an obsession with greed. “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor…and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, ‘For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?’ This also is vanity and an unhappy business” (4:4-8).

But Ecclesiastes not only describes the futility of life under the sun, it also provides some answers for our frustration. The Preacher’s wise sayings are intended to help us form a proper perspective about this life and how we ought to live. Words of wisdom are delightful words of truth, but they also sometimes hurt. “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings.” Like ox-goads, they stir the will. Like nails in the wall of a house, they stick in the memory (12:9-11).

Most important is that these are words of authority. “They are given by one Shepherd” (12:11). Man cannot discover them by himself; they come from the Creator. He is not only the sovereign of the universe; he is one who is near us and who cares for our well-being.

So, what answers does wisdom give us? Some answers to our frustration include learning to enjoy life, to do good, and to rejoice in our labors (3:12-13, 22). The answers are found in cultivating companionship and nurturing good relationships in this life. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil… Again, if two lie down together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?... A threefold cord is not quickly broken (4:9-12).

Ultimately, wisdom teaches us that fulfillment—and therefore, happiness—in this life, come with the realization that life is “God’s gift to man” and that, in his time, God will bring all to judgment (3:13, 17).

Dan Petty