By Lau Jue Hua, Singapore
It is estimated that there are 1.8 deaths every second. That’s about the time it takes for you to read the previous sentence. And who knows? In the next second, I may be the 1 in that 1.8 that just keels over and dies without ever fulfilling my purpose in life.
The trouble is, I don’t know what my purpose in life is.
On May 19, 2012, an 18-year-old passed away. Zach Sobiech, in his battle against cancer, ran out of treatment options and decided to focus on living his life to the fullest. In addition to the wonderful memories he gave to his loved ones, he left behind the song Clouds, which touched millions of lives, garnering support from celebrities and topping the iTunes chart.
To be honest, I envy him. At the end of his life, he left a legacy that will be remembered by countless others. On the other hand, the 21-year-old me am sitting in front of a computer staring at my words filling its screen while questioning my very own existence.
In a search for answers, I read the Discovery Series Why In The World Am I Here? It draws answers from Ecclesiastes. The book is written by King Solomon, known for his justice and wisdom in his earlier reign and later, his corruption and foolishness when he turned away from God. This book recorded his repentance and serves as a guide to all believers.
Solomon, who amassed much wealth, power, wisdom and great achievements, likens his earlier search for fulfillment as grasping for the wind. “I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14 NIV).
Despite all of Solomon’s knowledge, his riches and the 700 wives and 300 concubines he had, he still could not fill the emptiness he felt. Eventually he turned to gods and idols of the other nations around him (1 Kings 11:1-13), and lost the blessing of the absolute God.
Seeing the error of his ways, Solomon shared that it is useful to gain more knowledge (Ecclesiastes 2:13-14), but we will end up in despair if our purpose in life is to learn enough facts (Ecclesiastes 1:18). Similarly with food, drink, sex, music and beauty, if you live solely for pleasure, it will not give you lasting fulfillment.
As Solomon looked back on his life, he realized that he had placed too much emphasis on his own achievements. He recounts, “I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me” (Ecclesiastes 2:17-18). This tells us that no matter how much he worked, he hated it because there was no real permanence to its fruits. He would have no control over what he had accumulated or accomplished after he died.
Marriage was also not his answer to fulfillment. Solomon would know—he tried marriage 700 times! “Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity” (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Although Solomon promoted marriage, the words vain and vanity may imply that finding joy with one’s spouse may not explain life’s meaning.
Solomon hints at the answer to life’s purpose throughout Ecclesiastes (vv 2:24-25; 3:11-14,17; 5:1-7, 18-20; 7:16-18; 8:12; 11:8-9; 12:1), but his strongest statement comes in the concluding two verses of the very last chapter.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14).
Solomon advises us to have a biblical fear of the Lord—a healthy and respectful fear of His power, greatness, authority, and holiness. This fear should drive us to Him, not away from Him. To fear the Lord means that we take Him seriously and desire to please Him in all that we do and say. As such, we will follow the directions He lays out for us and ultimately, find fulfillment. In other words, obey God’s commandments and we will find purpose in life.
Solomon’s advice sounds rational as they stem from his own experiences. Learning from his successes and failures, his final message to us is to always honor God and live for His intended purpose, and not for our own.
If you’re like me, wandering aimlessly in life, still searching for your purpose, why not start finding one now. Together with God, we can find a fulfilling purpose. So pick up a Bible, read the whole of Ecclesiastes then share your comments below.
“For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.” —C.S. Lewis
This reflection was based on the Discovery Series title Why In The World Am I Here? by RBC ministries. You can read it here.