Imagine that you just graduated from a Masters’ degree program and received a promotion at work as a result, and someone asked you, ‘What does it matter?’ with reference to your graduation and promotion. You might be taken back by the brashness of their question but you’re a polite person so you respond by saying, ‘Well, it helped to equip me to do my job better and now, as a result of taking a position of greater responsibility, I take home more money to benefit my family.’ You think you hit their underhanded, off-speed, softball pitch of a question out of the park. But they don’t. Unmoved, they unleash a series of existential questions with more than hint of nihilism to boot: ‘So what? What does it really matter if you do your job a little better and bring home a little more money? So you make someone’s day potentially a wee bit brighter? Eventually darkness will set in and your ‘momentary brightness’ will be eclipsed and forgotten by the pain of life’s tragedies. And what exactly does a little bit more money do for your family? Add a little bit more activity, entertainment, and comfort to your fleeting life? You won’t even remember 1% of it when you’re on your deathbed and neither will those you spent that time with.’ It’s at this point you realize why this person doesn’t have many friends. He lacks a filter but he is asking questions that demand an answer. In the final analysis, what profit is there in wisdom – whether it be intellectual or moral?
As we continue to prepare the way for the answer to the question, “Why am I here (on earth)?” we come to Solomon’s first case study to deconstruct supposed self-satisfiers. He begins with the subject of work, briefly introducing the subject at the beginning of the book and then developing it further in chapter two. In the third verse of the book he wrote,
What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun? (Eccl. 1:3)
He used a financial term (“profit”) as though he was doing a kind of cost-benefit analysis. What’s the ‘bottom line’ from all of man’s labor? He gets around to the conclusion shortly after asking that question and the review he gave wasn’t exactly glowing, though it did start off promising.