A lot of people are frustrated with life. They really want to love it, but so much about the nature of this world keeps that seemingly out of reach. Are they just doing it wrong? Or are we doomed to hate life?
In 1 Peter 3:10-11, the apostle Peter advises, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.” The desire to love life is right, and Peter points out that it should motivate us to live properly so as to indeed “see good days” and have a life worth loving.
We might be surprised, then, to hear another Biblical writer declare from his own experience, “So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). This author also coolly dismisses the idea that righteousness provides a certain or lasting advantage: “In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing” (Ecclesiastes 7:15). How can we reconcile these two perspectives on life?
Vanity Under the Sun
We have to be careful to understand the verses in Ecclesiastes quoted above in their context. An essential interpretive key to the book is the phrase “under the sun,” found not only in Ecclesiastes 2:17 but repeatedly throughout the work. In other words, for the purposes of his treatise, the writer (or “Preacher,” Ecclesiastes 1:1) is assuming a perspective that is limited to the natural world, and pursues his thinking to its logical end. G. S. Hendry states that the preacher is addressing “the general public whose view is bounded by the horizons of this world; he meets them on their own ground, and proceeds to convict them of its inherent vanity… His book is in fact a critique of secularism and of secularized religion” (Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes, p. 23).
Another commentator explains the logic of the preacher: “Where he differs from [secular thinkers] is in following such trains of thought much further than they would care to take them. Path after path will be relentlessly explored to the very point at which it comes to nothing” (Derek Kidner). People of the world often scoff at religion and try and find meaning elsewhere in life. But after the writer of Ecclesiastes plunges into the search for fulfillment, first in human wisdom, then successively in pleasure, achievement, possessions, and even “spirituality” for its own worldly benefit, he encounters tyrannical enemies that rob all earthly activities of any final value: time, chance, the cyclical system of things, human evil, and ultimately death.
The simple fact is that life, outside of God, is to be hated. The propaganda of advertisements with smiling faces acting like life is satisfying because of the latest thing they bought or vacation they took or self-help book they read is a lie. The truth is more likely to be appreciated reading the obituaries or visiting the hospice. The sooner we hate life without God, the sooner we have taken the first step towards a life that can be loved.
The Key to Loving Life
Faith in God, then, is the key to loving life. The preacher ultimately concludes this, and his probings of the ends of secular reasoning and living confirm his faith (see, for instance, Ecclesiastes 5:18-20). Taking God into account transforms our view of this life, so that it is no longer a desperate quest for something fulfilling and meaningful (which it cannot possibly give), and grants us the necessary perspective of eternity and the things that matter the most. Knowing God allows us to accept the good things of life as gifts from his hand, pleasant for a time, but never meant to fulfill. The Giver himself is the one who satisfies our spirits.
Thus Peter is right to call us to honesty, uprightness, and peacefulness. This is the way of God, and to seek him and please him is the only way to finally love life.