The author of the Old Testament book, Ecclesiastes asked the same question. As a matter of fact he opens his book with this very question,
Vanity[b] of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
He claims that all we do is in vain! Why bother with anything? Time will pass, regardless of all the efforts we make, no matter what we do it seems like time will continue to pass and leave us behind.
I hear this tone a lot in people’s inquiries about spiritual matters. I hear it a lot in particularly in the voices of our young people, the very people who should be obsessed with visions of hope and new tomorrows. Instead they ask, why bother?
Why should we bother to do things well or excellently? Why should we bother investing now for tomorrow? Why should we bother with prayer, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines?
Afterall, what we do doesn't change anything or at least it appears that way. We don't change God’s mind. We don't change the movement of the grand tide. It is useless.
Well, in fact it may appear completely useless if you’re trying to make big profound changes. It may even be true in attempting to make small changes in yourself like breaking a habit, an addiction or getting over a fear.
Ultimately, the key in moving from “all is vanity” to “there is purpose” is to learn to trust God. When we attempt to determine what is right and what is wrong with the world, we tend to be overwhelmed with the reality of how pervasive sin is in our reality. When we attempt to make things happen according to our timeline or when we attempt to force reality to accommodate itself to us, we immediately realize its impossibility and how far out of our lane we are.
We were not created to manage God’s creation. We were trusted to care for it. To love it, enjoy it and be informed by it. For if we look closely it will point us back to God.
We were not created to be God’s conscience in the lives of our neighbors. We are asked to first know God so that in experiencing God’s love, we can then love our neighbors the way He loves us. This very act unites us with one another and God at the same time.
Moving closer to God in relationship is not about getting close enough to the throne so we can steal his authority and misuse it for our purposes. Getting to know God is about getting to know God.
It’s not about getting closer to God to get something or to influence God. I saw this dynamic in the military, where a staffer who worked for a General or Admiral would use their boss’ rank to get influence for their own purposes. This is not why we are here. It’s about being in relation with God so we may know God.
When this happens, when we learn to drop our agendas and stop acting like our issues are the most important things in the universe, and we get close to God you will begin to see new purpose. You will begin to understand what it means to praise God. Giving glory to God takes on a new form. Your relationship with God will intensify and so will your understanding of God’s creation.
We have to stop believing that God put us here to fix something. This was the job of Jesus. The job of General Manager now belongs to the Holy Spirit. God put us here so we can learn to walk with God. So we might be aware of Him.
Its not all in vain, for God has a purpose for it all. We are not to be consumed with what that purpose is to be. We are to be part of the journey that helps bring others to this realization. God is real. God is with us.
Perhaps if we trusted God to do God’s part, and we learned to be grateful, we would learn that it’s not about us, it’s all about God. Then we will realize that walking with God strengthens us to walk bravely through this world that is rampant with the evil that continues to rebel against God.
In the end, it’s not all in vain. In the end it’s not all without purpose. In the end, we realize that we reflect the light of hope (God) in a dark and evil world for others to find hope. In the end, again, it’s about God and about helping others find God. In the end, it's about discovering God is real. God's reality permeates through everything.
Get over yourself. Stop thinking you know what is best for you and others. Stop acting like God has to impress you. Take your eyes off of yourself and look at the cross and discover walking with a merciful God. Then you will see, it is not at all in vain.
The author of Ecclesiastes concludes that ultimately it is all about God and where we stand with Him in relationship. Chapter 12:12-13 declares,
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with[d] every secret thing, whether good or evil.”