We are in an age of mass production. We can produce consumer goods at a startlingly rate. Unfortunately for some, this requires mundane labour to be performed. Somebody has to collect garbage, pour concrete slabs, change a truck’s oil, deliver goods nationwide, clean toilets, manage crops, build roads.
If you have ever worked these types of jobs, you will be familiar with a type of feeling. A feeling of weariness is sure to follow you as you perform your duties over and over again. Some describe it as a feeling of alienation or disconnection.
I remember countless days watching my father come home from work exhausted. He worked a long day of driving all across Melbourne delivering packages. Every day it was the same. Drive to the destination, deliver the package, repeat.
I remember working in a factory and working as a labourer and dealing with this nagging feeling of pointlessness.
Mundane labour stings. But where would our society be without it? Mundane labour must be performed for our society to function. However, the unintended consequences include a trail of wearied workers.
There is a certain passage in the book of Ecclesiastes that speaks of a similar feeling.
““Meaningless! Meaningless!” Says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” (Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verses 1 to 4)
The author introduces a theme of futility. We toil and toil yet, the results seem minimal. The Good News translation puts it - “You spend your life working, labouring, and what do you have to show for it?” (Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verse 3)
We work from the ages of fifteen to sixty-five, then we are put in the dirt. The next generation comes and takes our place. The cycle of producing goods and consuming never ceases. What really changes?
A Picture of Futility
Even when the client is different, the job is similar. Even when the job site is different, the labour is the same. Every job seems to blur together until it feels you are repeating the same thing over and over, day after day.
We are left with a sort of pointlessness. The author of Ecclesiastes gives us three pictures in nature analogous to this futility.
The sun rises, illuminates our space, then hides. Day after day it repeats. The wind and waves seem to be untamed, but they also hold fast to repetitious cycles. There are traceable wind patterns. Rains come then the waters evaporate. The sun, wind and waves all dance at our Lord’s command, yet they always return to where they came from. Continually cycling.
The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say.” (Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verses 5 to 8)
The book of Ecclesiastes introduces some sombre themes. The first passage of Ecclesiastes introduces a theme of futility. The rest of Ecclesiastes infers a vanity in different life pursuits of meaning.
But this is all based on the premise that God is far removed from the picture. The book is working from a premise that you look out in nature without a divine lens. Or you find meaning through pleasure, work, wisdom, or riches in and of themselves. After these pursuits are examined and ultimately found desperately wanting, a conclusion is made. God is finally front and centre.
“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes chapter 12, verses 13 to 14)
The exhortation to fear God and keep his commandments leads us into right relationship with God. This is the duty of mankind, translated literally – this is the whole of man. This is the most important thing to do. Bringing wholeness. Meaning. Fulfilment. In stark contrast to the emptiness that has been explored in the book.
Finally, the cycle of mundane labour doesn’t have to be rendered meaningless, because every deed matters. God brings every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing. He notices the miniscule, because he desires to watch. He is free to be who he will be, yet he desires to look upon every deed.
"It kills all complacency to know that nothing goes unnoticed and unassessed, not even the things that we disguise from ourselves. But at the same time, it transforms life. If God cares as much as this, nothing can be pointless." (Derek Kinder, The Message of Ecclesiastes, p107)
Hallelujah! Nothing can be pointless if God cares enough to see all deeds. Nothing can be pointless if God cares enough to weighs all deeds on his scale.
Dare I say every nail we hammer, every bin we empty, every toilet bowl we scrub, every defective product we remove from the conveyor belt, all of it matters.
Why? Because there is gravity to every deed when God weighs, examines, scrutinises every action. With God, every deed has added significance. Without God, we exist to replicate a string of molecules.
But in relationship with him, mankind finds his meaning. Meaning is possible despite the vanity of other pursuits. The simmering pointlessness of mundane labour can be quelled by a fresh revelation that God is aware of every activity.
Roden Meares enjoys playing basketball, reading comics and going to the gym. He has a passion for evangelising and helping others in their faith through writing.
Roden’s previous articles can be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/roden-meares.html