Ecclesiastes & the Post-Modern Teen: The Rugged Rat-Race
One of the most fundamental of human pursuits is the quest for a legacy. About the time our thoughts mature, the general movement of those thoughts is directed on making a name for ourselves, leaving something behind, ensuring we’re remembered. We resolve everything to this end, endeavoring to achieve something bigger, greater, and larger than ourselves. We’re all on the quest for the “next big thing,” the latest convenience that’s destined to put everything together and enable us to “be all we can be.” We yearn for something more than who we are. This desire manifests itself in several ways.
Ever since the events of Genesis 3, mankind has endlessly thought he could fabricate better God’s than God himself. In fact, our pursuit of greater and greater knowledge is motivated by the desire to define life without the need for God. Evolution, relativity, and all other theories of our origins have their genesis in this desperate expedition to reject answering to a higher power. Today’s postmodern youth are especially inundated with the concept of removing any higher authority from the equation, let alone God. Teens are no longer given the strength and insight they need to follow truth. They’re encouraged instead to make their own way.
But underneath this rebellion lies something familiar yet forgotten; something adults as well as teens chase. And that is paradise — eternity. The history of man is the history of his groping after fulfillment, peace, freedom, satisfaction — for life itself — and searching for it in all the wrong places. You could argue that, perhaps without realizing it, every human who’s ever lived is actually on a quest for God. But instead of clinging to the only hope we have for such liberty, we push it away by claiming we know better.
In the deep recesses of every human heart resides an awareness of divinity. (Eccl. 3:11) We come into this world divinely created to know and pursue God. Believers and unbelievers alike are born with God’s law written on their hearts. (Rom. 2:15) No one’s an atheist by birth. But sin’s intrusion has perverted man’s innate theology into a gross anthropology, causing him to turn to himself for that which can only be found outside of himself. We understand that our system is broken, but so stubborn are we that we never succumb to dependence. We opt for hardship over lordship, never wishing to concede control or relinquish power.
Mankind has made its primary mandate to live life completely devoid of God’s influence. But because God “has also put eternity in their hearts” (Eccl. 3:11), we persist the search for something lasting, something fulfilling, something eternal to finally bring peace to his soul. Some run to politics, others to science, others to materialism, some to charity, even more, still, to pleasure. All in the hopes of slaking an insatiable internal desire and need. This is no more evident than in the lives of today’s teenagers.
All the courses we occupy outside of the radical, saving, liberating grace of Jesus Christ, will never quench our restless hearts. The promises our teenagers are so quick to bow down to — fix everything by “fixing yourself,” chase a better version of you — will always leave them feeling even emptier than before. The idea that our teens will find their value and purpose and identity in others, that “Boyfriend-X” or “Girlfriend-Y” will satisfy and complete them, will only leave them lonelier than before. Believing in the promised happiness of the pleasures that the world offers only puts our kids on an unending hamster wheel of chasing satisfaction, where the pleasure they do receive comes and goes just as quickly, “like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
But perhaps the craftiest of all idol-pursuits is that of striving for change and meaning in our religious performance. We — fallible, failing, and filthy mankind — try to atone for ourselves to a holy, perfect, and righteous God by “being good.” The idolatry of religious performance, like all idolatry, arrests the mind and spirit and delivers us over to the tyranny of self.
These pursuits, while seeming to promise all we long for, only leave us feeling more empty and more broken, with a keener sense of the “something more” that’s still beyond our reach. Fortunately, this is where Jesus steps in, because more powerful than sin’s intrusion is Jesus’s interruption. Christ steps into the mess we’ve made, the mayhem we’ve chosen, and there He tenders the glorious good news of his grace, which alone can satisfy all the unremitting cravings of man’s heart. (Ps. 16:11; Phil. 4:19) Jesus has come to bring to us the good news which we could never find in ourselves. He has come to stir our hearts and minds back to their Edenic beginnings, showing us how life works best, how God designed it.
The messages we give our youth sometimes resemble the self-help “gospels” that pepper the shelves of bookstores across the country. “Make your own way.” “Work hard.” “Be all you can be.” We devote so much time and energy to these messages that teens are easily duped into forgetting where true life is found. It’s not in these “God-replacements.” Life is only found in God alone. Nothing else will last, nothing else will satisfy, nothing else will free you, except for the God of the gospel. The message for our youth is that Jesus is “all and in all.” (Col. 3:11) Where all others fail you, Jesus is faithful. (1 Cor. 1:7–9; Heb. 10:23; 13:5) Where pleasure escapes you, Jesus satisfies. (Ps. 17:15; Prov. 19:23; Jer. 31:25) Where religion exhausts you, Jesus promises rest. (Ps. 18:1–3; Matt. 11:28–30) Where sin enslaves you, Jesus severs and frees. (Isa. 61:1–2) Rescue and reconciliation, freedom and liberation, cannot be provided by the world. The only truth that can fill the eternal hole of your soul is the sovereign grace of God. No sort of “God-replacement” can ever fill the void or fulfill that inner desire for something more.
The cavernous infinity of your heart was only meant to be filled by an equally infinite and immutable object. Anything you try to fit there that isn’t Jesus ends up being a square peg forced into a round hole: it just doesn’t fit; it isn’t designed to. But with hearts and minds bent on the Savior and all that He has secured for us, life takes on a different meaning and purpose. No longer are we forced to work for ourselves, for our legacy, for our life — we can live for Another and his legacy. No amount of satisfaction we find here will last. Only what God does — what he has done already — endures forever. (Eccl. 3:14) And the amazing news the gospel brings is that we’re invited to share in this everlasting work. We’re called to take part in something so much greater, something eternal. And that’s the best legacy we could ever leave.