Danger! These are days when even the most stalwart of souls could fall into the grip of futility. We’re shut up, and we’re shut down. We’ve been lied to so much that there are few people out there we dare to believe.
Our heroes have all been found out. They are men and women no better than us, and they have failed us. This hit me hard last week when I heard about yet another man of God whom I’ve followed and greatly respected had been sexually abusing and exploiting women for years.
The resulting frustration can fuel addictions, depression, anxiety, isolation, and suicidal despair if we let it. It is rooted in a sense of futility, which is defined as “pointlessness or uselessness.”
Solomon’s word in Ecclesiastes is sometimes translated vanity, or more poetically, a “chasing after the wind.” There is a sense right now that whatever we might try to do to effect change–whether in our personal lives, our political milieu, or our spiritual vocation—it probably won’t amount to much.
The Preacher of Ecclesiastes came to believe this. He tried it all, in search of enlightenment, or meaning, or peace. He went the route of wisdom and found futility. He followed his pleasures and found futility. He sought wealth and found futility. He tried working his way to happiness and found—futility.
Sometimes it seems everything has been tried and done, and tried and done again, over and over, century after century. Has the human race progressed? We wonder.
But the answer is not in finding a new way. The answer is in remembering that we need God, and wise people know this. Our technology and scientific advancement can’t save us from futility. Only the Savior can.
We need saving as much as the wanderers of the ancient world. As much as the cathedral builders of the 11th century. As much as the star-gazers of the 16th. As much as the tribalists of Africa, the pantheists of Asia, the atheists of Europe.
I’m not writing this to be a downer. I’m really not. I believe that when we acknowledge that we can’t find the sense of purpose our hearts long for without connecting ourselves with a loving, saving God, we can find comfort and encouragement.
It’s not up to us to do all of the work to create meaning; God in Christ has provided us with a remedy for futility.
David cried out,
“Remember how short my time is; For what futility have You created all the children of men?What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave?” (Ps 89:47-48). We all know the answer to these rhetorical questions, and to Job’s, when in his great suffering shouted to the heavens,
“Is there not a time of hard service for man on earth? Are not his days also like the days of a hired man?
Like a servant who earnestly desires the shade, And like a hired man who eagerly looks for his wages, So I have been allotted months of futility, and wearisome nights have been appointed to me.When I lie down, I say, ‘When shall I arise, And the night be ended?’ For I have had my fill of tossing till dawn’” (Job 7:1-4).
Paul the Apostle also recognized that in the absence of the Savior’s saving grace, humans are lost in the “futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Eph. 4:17-18).
So, in our struggle against futility that plagues the soul, what is the remedy?
Here it is:
The entire universe is standing on tiptoe, yearning to see the unveiling of God’s glorious sons and daughters! For against its will the universe itself has had to endure the empty futility resulting from the consequences of human sin. But now, with eager expectation, all creation longs for freedom from its slavery to decay and to experience with us the wonderful freedom coming to God’s children” (Rom. 8:19-21,TPT).
I love the Passion Translation rendering, “standing on tiptoe.” A universe that has been perverted by brokenness and chaos, purposeless and pain, now can glimpse the beginnings of new light, and an end to “empty futility.” There is a “wonderful freedom” coming! There is hope, and the hope is tied into the redemption of “God’s glorious sons and daughters.”
Even the rocks and trees, animals, birds, and fish, the water, the air, the stars—everything is waiting in breathless anticipation for the full revelation of Christ and his army of followers. We carry within us by faith the seed of hope in the kingdom to come, the kingdom of heaven.
So be of good cheer child of God! What you are sowing, you shall reap. Stay faithful with every gift and calling the Father has placed in you. It is God who brings the increase, in his own way, and in his own time.
This is our hope, and hope is how we fight futility and find meaning in our days.