An excerpt from the first chapter of my recently released book, Nothing New Under the Sun: A Blunt Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes:
Privileged, loved, educated, wealthy, this is what I saw: emptiness, futility, vanity. Everything is ephemeral. Everything crumbles to dust in your hands. Everything passes away. There is no escape.
What good does it do to work hard and get ahead? Whole generations are born, suffer, work themselves to exhaustion, and die with nothing to show for it—all while the world spins in place, unmoved by their coming or going. The sun rises, the sun sets, and then it rises again. The winds, indifferent, rush past. Rivers empty endlessly into a sea that will never be full.
All of this, relentless, repeats again and again. It uses me up. No matter how many stories I’m told or how much beauty I see, it’s never enough. I’m still left wanting more.
The present repeats the past and the future repeats the present. Nothing is new. Nothing on God’s green earth or under God’s blue sky—nothing under the sun—moves us to shout: “Look, it’s new!” Everything is an iteration of what went before. Things only seem new because our memories are short. No one remembers what happened last week, let alone last year. We forget everything and our children remember even less.
I ruled in Israel. I made things happen and got things done. I pledged my heart to understanding what God requires. I considered all the things that people build and achieve and, in the end, I was forced to confess their futility. God has given us nothing but busywork. All our efforts only lead in a circle. Nothing changes. Everything is empty and futile and vain. Two steps forward and three steps back.
Time erodes every gain—and time cannot be stopped. Trying to stop time is like trying to bottle the wind. The wind cannot be bottled. What is crooked cannot be made straight. The holes in our hearts can never be filled.
Then I thought: but I’m special, the normal rules don’t apply. I’m smarter and stronger than other people. I can see more clearly and I’ve read more books. What wisdom there is, I’ve gathered it. So I tried to determine what advantage wisdom had given me over madmen and fools—but, again, it was futile. There’s no lasting difference I can tell. All of my learning has only made me feel more alone. My wisdom is all hot air. More knowledge just means more heartache.