The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has already been, in the ages before us. The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-9).
This magnum opus on futility begins the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. It is commonly thought to be written by King Solomon, who pleased the Lord by asking for wisdom (1 Kings 3:10) and got all things besides. The great king is rumored to have penned Ecclesiastes at the end of his life, after experiencing riches, wisdom, and incomparable honor…and finding joy, apparently, in none of it. All is wearisome for there is neither enough nor excitement, neither satisfaction nor adventure. No one is remembered and there is nothing new under the sun, yet the great cycle continues. Sun up, sun down and there is nothing new under it.
This might sound depressing and hopeless. Actually, I think it’s astounding. Our world thousands of years removed from the one in which this passage was written in and is one of unprecedented technology, which enables all kinds of “new” discoveries from the very large (think Hubble Telescope) to the very small (think Higgs Boson), yet I think this text is relevant and even restful to us today. It might seem impossible for us at this point in history to affirm The Teachers words that “it has already been, in the ages before us.” But here’s what might happen if we try:
We might not feel like everything rests on our shoulders. We might not feel like we have to do everything, be everywhere, or be everything we or society thinks we should be. If everything has been done before, we are not the be all, end all of the world. This is not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t try to be creative; it is to say that whatever ventures we feel led to by God’s spirit should be done with humility. We will not truly do “new” things, it’s all been done before. Since there is nothing new under the sun – at least not to the One who remains above it (and all else) – we can rest knowing that we don’t have to come up with the latest and greatest.
Much of ministry, then, however it may look for us, is really more about loving people enough to remind them of what they already know but may not yet believe: that though there is nothing new under the sun, nothing new has to be striven to be done. All that God requires of us is to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) and to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4) until He comes again. These things require commitment and patience; but it is only the Lord, the creator of all, who can make anything truly new – and is doing so (Rev. 21:5) even today, under our familiar sun by day and the old light of the stairs at night.