I didn’t know them, but under a midday Alabama sun I asked them to move the chairs across the yard because that is where I understood the chairs needed to be. We were all getting ready for the same event, and they were kind enough to follow my directions. After I left, someone more in charge than I asked them to move the chairs back again. And they did.
That evening, seeing the twice-transported chairs and the three willing workers, I approached to apologize for setting them such a futile task. They were gracious. And a bystander made a remark to the effect that futility is a normal part of the human experience.
Futility. I’ve been thinking about it. I drove the nearly seven hours home across our summery south yesterday in a car with a newly-dysfunctional air conditioner. I sang triumphant hymns and got a one-sided sunburn and conducted waltzes and held hands with the wind out the open window.
But you can’t hold the wind. You can’t keep it. The Preacher calls this “vanity,” and says that “all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:14). The apostle Paul says that the whole creation has been subjected to futility, enslaved to corruption (Rom. 8:20, 21). They would agree, maybe, that the human endeavor is one long summer afternoon, moving chairs which have already been moved to places where they were before, and moving them back again.
Except that it isn’t. Except that, at the end of the day, it isn’t about the chairs at all, or about the un-catchable wind.
The Preacher concludes that, in this grievous task of living which God has given us, the thing to be done is “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecc. 12:13, 14). Paul, however, goes even further, he actually says that this “creation has been subjected to futility . . . in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption and into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20, 21). The futility is frustrating because we’re looking for something bigger to happen, because something bigger is happening.
We were willing to move the chairs back and forth under the sun because we were preparing to celebrate a wedding. And a wedding is worth the weariness, worth sweat and sunburn in a car with no AC, worth the effort of holding the wind.
We live and do the things that have already been done under this sun which sees nothing new, but the end is a thing that has never been seen before, a wedding unlike any other, with the bride not emerging from any cramped church room, but coming down out of heaven, the wife of the Lamb, adorned with the glory of God (Rev. 21:2, 9, 10). This will not happen under the sun; there will be no need of sun or moon, “for the glory of God [will illumine]” that place, “and its lamp [will be] the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23).
And so we pursue our futile tasks in hope, because of a promised glory with which these hardships “are not worthy to be compared” (Rom. 9:18). We watch for the day when vanity will be vanquished. Though “the eye is not satisfied with seeing,” though “the ear is not filled with hearing” (Ecc. 1:8), we know that they shall be satisfied, they shall be filled. For our thirst there awaits “the spring of the water of life,” given “without cost” (Rev. 21:6).
Our feet are weary with walking under the sun, but at that wedding, we will forget the weariness, we will dance. Not because of our virtue in moving chairs to all the wrong places, but because of the love of Christ, from which nothing shall separate us (Rom. 9:35-39).
Futility? Yes, for now. But not for always.
©2013 by Stacy Nott