The opening words of the teacher, son of David, declare "Meaningless!
Meaningless!" If you didn’t get it the first time he leaves no doubt as to
what he means when he goes on to say, "Utterly meaningless! Everything is
meaningless." Most people prefer to sugar coat reality to make it more
palatable as in “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” (Mary
Poppins) Or they defy reality as in, "The one who dies with the most toys
wins!" (Malcolm Forbes) The teacher prefers to tell it like it is. He
hates the things for which he toiled and despairs of his striving under the
sun. Even if you work with wisdom, knowledge and skill you can’t take it with
you when you go and others will profit from your pain. The one who dies with
the most toys still dies. This might lead one to despair of life but that is
not what the teacher declares as meaningless. Vanity of vanities is how the old
version goes and that puts the emphasis where it belongs. What is meaningless
is a sugar coated reality that convinces one that circumstances can be
controlled, that the future can be made secure by the accumulation of wealth or
wisdom or that with enough chasing after the wind you can put the breeze
in your pocket. The teacher’s instruction is not that life itself is meaningless.
No. But life lived without meaning is truly vanity of vanities.