says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
"What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?
"Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
"The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
"All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
"All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
"What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
"Again I looked and saw
all the oppression
that was taking place
under the sun:
"I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
"And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
"But better than both
is he who has not yet been,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun.
"And I saw that all labor and
all achievement spring from
man’s envy of his neighbor.
This too is meaningless,
a chasing after the wind.
Excerpts from the book of Ecclesiastes 1:2-9; 4:1-4 (NIV)
The collected sayings of someone identified as “Choheleth” (translated variously as the teacher or the preacher) compiled over 2,200 years ago, the book of Ecclesiastes explores the vanity, or meaninglessness, of life “under the sun,” viz. here in the secular world of men. When I first read this book it struck a deep resonance within my empty soul. Here, finally, was someone who eloquently captured what my heart knew full well – life under the sun is a pointless, meaningless, wearisome vanity, fraught with injustice and oppression.
But what was it doing buried in the middle of the Bible that the mysterious, sincere stranger had given me while gently warning me of the dangers of the cult whose teachings I had begun to study? A cult that he, himself, had gone deeply into until strange and terrifying supernatural things had begun to happen to him.
I had never really given the Bible much consideration, having decided that Christianity was alternately for closed-minded dogmatists or feel good hypocrites, but certainly not for anyone willing to look the hard, cold realities of life straight in the eye without flinching. And yet, here these realities were, staring hard back at me out of the book I had so long dismissed.
The mysterious stranger happened to have just started working at my company and was in the same lab area the day before where he overheard me excitedly recounting the new teachings I had just begun to study through the mail. It was an advanced, esoteric yoga discipline guaranteed to foster rapid spiritual advancement. He quietly approached me as I was leaving the area and politely explained that he couldn’t help overhearing, and that he had studied the same course of teachings for over two years and suggested we have lunch together so he could tell me about his experiences with them. I readily agreed.
At lunch I listened in rapt fascination to his story. Similar to me it had started with a book. The book led to the course through the mail, which lead to an in person visit to the “mother center” for indoctrination into the deeper practices. Then came the bizarre and frightening experiences that he had been told to expect as a “normal” part of his spiritual progression. Only these were so frightening that something in him knew that he couldn’t just ignore them as he had been told to do. He needed to seek objective spiritual counsel from another source. So he knocked on the door of the church down the street and met with the pastor who listened to his story, believed everything he told him, and said he could help.
By now we had finished eating. He opened his bag and drew out a new, leather bound book, and handing it to me offered me the same advice that the pastor had given him: Put the brakes on the eastern cult teachings and take a fresh look at Christianity, straight from the Bible. Read it for yourself. Or at least give it equal time with the other things you study.
I accepted the Bible he gave me and we parted ways and went back to work. My head was reeling from his story and its implications. Although not willing to believe just anything that anybody told me, I couldn’t lightly dismiss his account because his words rang heavy with the conviction born of truth and I knew he was sincere.
That night as I thumbed through the pages of the Bible, for the first time in my life reading them with interest, I happened upon the book of Ecclesiastes, immediately drawn in when my eye chanced to fall upon the very first word – “Meaningless!” As I continued to read, the chills running up and down my spine grew in intensity as I realized that not only did I recognize myself in the words of the book, but the book itself, in some inexplicable manner, recognized me as well. In that moment I knew I would take the advice of the mysterious stranger, although I had no idea where it would lead.
Moment: A late Fall evening in 1989, Meaninglessness stared back at me from the pages of a Bible, and knew my name.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was to be a turning point for me in my spiritual searching, away from the allure of eastern mysticism and toward the central figure of the faith for which I had such dismissive disdain that I regularly used his name as a swear word – Jesus Christ. And the mysterious stranger? I never saw him again. I tried looking him up some time later and he wasn’t listed in the company directory.