Among common life goals people cite, wanting to make a difference usually tops the list. How people define making a difference may change due to the different interests and strengths people have, but people want to feel like what they are doing in life truly matters. Doctors, researchers, counselors, journalists, soldiers, politicians, and more all infuse their work with added meaning because they sincerely believe that their chosen profession offers them the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. To some degree, they are correct. Helping others, righting wrongs, and saving lives surely have value in this life. And yet, it is this very limitation—in this life—that so challenged Solomon.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote, “I communed with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge. And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind” (Ecc. 1:16-17). Solomon knew more and had the means to do more than anyone else in the world, but he was unfulfilled. Many people today feel much like Solomon. They feel a lack of purpose and a lack of accomplishment—including many very accomplished people. Why? They realize the fleeting nature of life and the fleeting nature of their accomplishments. They move beyond seeking the immediate satisfaction of the moment and begin to contemplate what will happen after that moment, after their career is over, and perhaps even their life is past. The world moves on, and even some of the most accomplished and influential people in history ultimately become footnotes at best. Therefore, a perspective that invests heavily in making a difference in this world can quickly lead to frustration and depression. Solomon summed this up well when he opined, “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’” (Ecc. 1:2). A life lived solely for this life—no matter how accomplished and no matter how much committed to making a difference—is a life lived in vain.
Despite how some have taken Solomon’s words, he did not here present life as a hopeless, meaningless enterprise, nor did he argue against seeking accomplishments and making a difference in people’s lives. The essence of his inspired argument rests in the perspective that seeks accomplishment and meaning apart from God and His will. This is no mere clarification. It is the foundation of his point. Whatever you do in life means nothing if you do not have the right relationship with God. It matters not how much power you wield, it matters not how much money you have, and it matters not how well you are known, because in eternity, none of these matter at all. Purpose in life should therefore not come from the profession of a career but rather from the profession of our faith. A relationship with God offers purpose in this life and purpose beyond this life. A life without God leads to an eternity without God, and that truly is an unfulfilled life.