What is the point? I wake up and wash my face. I brush my teeth and apply deodorant. Sometimes I shave. Interestingly enough, a tube of toothpaste and a stick of deodorant both last me almost exactly four months. I’m not sure why I measured that, but I did. Shaving soap–I use a brush–will last for around 14 months. That suggests that I’ve been through 168 tubes of toothpaste in my life. The three cakes of shaving soap I have tucked in a bathroom drawer ought to just about be running out at my 60th birthday.
In the 31 years that I’ve been teaching college English, I’ve probably stood before more than 250 writing classes. Another 70 or 80 lie in my way before I retire. Each class has around 22 students, each of whom turns in four or five papers, papers reflecting the same sort of immature thought patterns and assumptions. Is it any wonder that I sometimes don’t spring out of bed in the morning?
Koheleth must have felt somewhat the same way in Ecclesiastes 1:8-11:
All things are wearisome,
more than anyone can say.
The eye is not satisfied by 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.
Can one say about anything,
“Look, this is new”?
It has already existed in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of those who came before;
and of those who will come after
there will also be no remembrance
by those who follow them.
As impatient as we can be when we are young, as we age we realize that life is long. Typically, that long life involves doing the same things day after day after day. It’s kind of like the movie Groundhog Day without Sonny and Cher singing on the alarm clock every morning.
“There’s nothing new under the sun.” That’s one of the more famous lines from Ecclesiastes, and all you have to do is turn on cable news to confirm the truth of this statement. The details may have changed but you’ll have the same sorts of people–often the exact same people–saying essentially the same things in response to nearly every supposed news item.
We watch TV and movies with the hope of seeing something new, but rarely do we find it. In fact, when things are truly new, truly surprising to such a degree that they delight us, it just underscores how numbingly the same most of what passes for entertainment can be. The same can be said for food and for music and for a host of other things.
But should we truly seek novelty? Is there anything wrong with the fact that there’s nothing new under the sun?
I think that what Koheleth tells us here is that our minds are not satisfied for long with the things that are under the sun. So if there is nothing new there, then we’ll wind up feeling like he does. The problem, I’d suggest, is that if we’re looking for our thrills “under the sun,” then we are bound to disappointment. We’ll keep adding new riches and new wives (I’m thinking of Solomon here) but still find nothing but a nagging sense that there ought to be something more.
And there is something more, but Ecclesiastes doesn’t want to address it directly.