The Conclusion of the Matter

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Throughout the month of August, we’re looking at Ecclesiastes, that strange and seemingly “modern” Old Testament book that depicts what happens when humanity searches for ultimate meaning apart from God. 
There’s no substitute for simple, clear instructions.
Check out these statements on actual products:
On a hotel shower cap: Fits on head.
On a washing machine: Do not put people into washer.
On a gas tank: Never use a lit match to check fuel level.
On a chainsaw: Do not hold the chain while using.
On a television remote control: Not dishwasher safe.
On a stroller: Do not fold up stroller with child inside.
On an American Airlines package of peanuts: Open the package. Eat the peanuts.
On a child’s Superman costume: Wearing this garment does not enable you to fly.
On a power tool: If you cannot read warning labels, do not use this product.
Simple, clear instructions are a must, especially when life’s most important questions are at stake.
For instance: If God is really there, above and beyond this seemingly meaningless world that we experience every day “under the sun,” what is God asking of us?
Unfortunately, this is where things can get just as muddled as lawyer-generated warning labels.  Typically we hear things like:
Just join this denomination.
Just pray this prayer.
Just dive into this social cause.
Just believe these ideas.
Just read this book.
Just buy this version of the Bible.
Just worship like this. 
No, not like that, like this.
And pretty soon you have confused people pulling on red and blue leotards and trying to fly.
As Ecclesiastes comes to an end, it’s time to provide a conclusion – a clear and simple statement.  What have we learned about the meaning of life? 
The last six verses, it appears, are written not by Qoholeth (“the Teacher”) himself, but by someone who has gathered up and presented his material.  “Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people.  He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs.  The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true” (Ecclesiastes 12:9-10).
Then the commentator adds, “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails – given by one shepherd.  Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them” (12:11-12a).  Goads were rods or sharpened sticks that were used to prod animals while plowing.  They also kept flocks in line so they didn’t wander off the path.  Qoholeth’s words were meant to be a spiritual security system. 
Then we come to the line which for three millennia has been the go-to Bible verse for unmotivated students: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (12:12b).
Things have only gotten crazier in the 21st century. 
As Daniel Strange points out in his book Plugged In, historians estimate that the total amount of information generated from the dawn of humanity until 2003 was five exabytes of data.  An exabyte is a mind-numbingly large unit of computer data storage – basically the number one followed by 18 zeroes.  From 2003 through 2010, we generated an additional five exabytes of data.  In 2018, information experts declared that 90% of the world’s total data had been generated in the previous two years alone.
That’s a lot of information in a short period of time. 
Incredibly, at least 400 hours of new video are uploaded to YouTube every 60 seconds.  No one knows how many new books are published every year – a great deal depends on how one defines the word “book” – but some global estimates range as high as 4 million.  Conservatively, there are 1,700 new books published in the United States alone every 24 hours.  How many of those books do you plan to read?
“Of making many books there is no end.” Indeed. 
All of this becomes relevant if we’re truly searching for some kernel of truth, some spiritual or philosophical bottom line, some clear and simple instruction as to how we should live “under the sun.”  But how many different sources will we have to consult?
Here’s where Ecclesiastes finally lands in the last two verses of the book:
“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all humankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing” (12:13-14).
In short, our call is to throw ourselves onto God, as best we can.  In the New Testament we discover this means aligning ourselves with a living Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, and being empowered by God’s own Spirit day by day. 
And his commandments?  They’re not punishments to hem us in, but guardrails to keep us safe. 
Outside of God, Everything is Meaningless
That’s the message of Ecclesiastes. 
We can truthfully say we will never outgrow the need to take those six simple words to heart every day.