Man’s Labor

Man's Labor

“For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 2:22)

A couple weeks ago my family and I went up to Houghton, MI and Michigan Tech’s annual Ice Carnival. The event centers around ice sculptures designed and crafted by dorms, fraternities and divisions of the school. Some of the sculptures are incredibly elaborate works of art. The more difficult sculptures require hundreds of hours of labor, using techniques passed down from one generation of students to the next. The picture above is one portion of just such a sculpture. Also in that sculpture was a large Apollo type rocket and launch stand, and a lunar rover. The spaceman planting the flag is almost lifesize. This was just one of several (some even more elaborate) that showed the time, dedication and skill of the students in sculpting their snow creations. This sculpture struck me as a prime example of the futility of man’s efforts. We saw the sculptures the day after their completion and judging, and already some were showing signs of age with pieces knocked over and broken. In a couple months the snow will be melting, and all these finely formed sculptures will be little more than piles of slush. By the time the students close this semester nothing will remain of the things they spent so many hours working on.

One of the greatest achievements of the 20th century was putting a man on the moon. In the midst of the Cold War America attempted to show its superiority to the Soviet Republic by reaching the moon first. We succeeded after much labor, expense and lost lives. Yet what is our landing on the moon? Is not such a monumental feat still only so much futility? Is it not as temporary as a sculpture made from snow? What about our own deeds that we do from day to day? We often spend our days in great busy-ness, flitting from one thing to the next in an unending succession of activities. Are not our days spent in just as much futility as sculpting snow? The author of Ecclesiastes sums up all the deeds of life in the phrase “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” How much of what we do really lasts? How much impact do our deeds have? What will remain of all our work when we are dead? These questions are ones that Christians must answer. What good does it do us to invest our energy into things that are fleeting and futile? A quick reading of the book of Ecclesiastes will lead one to despair that any thing we do in this life is worthwhile. What do we get out of our labors and vexations? The answer from Ecclesiastes is we get more labors and more vexations.

Reading Ecclesiastes, or this article, should not drive us to nihilism- the belief that our existence is pointless. Our labor can and should be worthwhile, lasting labor. The book of Ecclesiastes was not written to cause us to despair, it was written to show us what things are truly profitable in a world of waste. As the book closes it summarizes what things in our existence are truly lasting. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” All our labor becomes profitable when it is done for God. So many times our labor is not done for God, it is done for advancement, gain, comfort, ease, envy, pride, greed or some other self focused reason. Solomon concluded, and we must join him in that summation, our deeds are only lasting as we fear God and keep His commands, remembering the judgment to come. Instead of wasting our time building snowmen, let’s invest our time in such a way that what we do will remain even through the fiery judgment and destruction to come.

Nikon D80 70mm F/13 1/100 ISO -100

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