“Vanity 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. … What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 9)
This qualification, under the sun, matters. It’s sort of like saying “in 2020”; we expect certain things to be true in those conditions. Of course, 2020 itself can be viewed under the sun, as could the tumults of the 16th century, and yes I just tried to sweep together the Protestant Reformation and a pandemic and a presidential election into the same thought bucket.
The great temptation among men is to forget God, or just to behave as if they have. This can even be done in His name, as the Roman Catholic Church has proven. Solomon’s observations about the apparent meaninglessness and mundaneness and weariness happen not from geocentricity, but from anthrocentricity, seeing life with man at the center, or even egocentricity, where things revolve around me. Man-centeredness, me-centeredness is vanity.
This is what the Reformers brought to light from Scripture, that by grace through faith in Christ we see the glory of God. The Word, which proclaims the gospel, announces our freedom from man-centeredness. We are delivered from the narrow frustrations of oppression and deceit and injustice and suffering and endless gathering and collecting under the sun, to see that actually, life and wisdom and joy come from the hand of God.
When our feet almost stumble, when we are tempted to envy the arrogant who seem to prosper, when it seems a wearisome task to figure it out, we come “into the sanctuary of God” to see Him at the center and we discern their end, and our place (see Psalm 73:1-2, 16-17).
“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 every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)