All my life’s a circle…
|3 What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and and comes panting back the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south,
and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they continue to flow.
8 All things are wearisome;
more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
or the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
The song writer Harry Chapin, best known for his song Taxi, also wrote:
All my life’s a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
Moon rolls through the nighttime;
‘Til the daybreak comes around.
All my life’s a circle;
But I can’t tell you why;
Season’s spinning round again;
The years keep rollin’ by.
There are some who think of history as proceeding forward in a straight line, but in reality it seems more like things just go in circles. Qohelet talks about how the sun goes in circle; it rises and sets, day after day after day. The wind, he says, blows north, then it blows south, then it blows north again. Rivers flow into the sea, but the river never empties, and the sea is never full. We also, he writes, are never full. We eat a wonderful meal, and later we are hungry again. We wake up refreshed from a sound sleep, but at night we are sleepy again.
We hear a song that moves us deeply, and then we lose that feeling until we hear another moving song. We travel from place to place, seeing wonderful sights, but when we go home we are soon aching to travel again.
A person makes a million dollars. Then they want ten million. They make ten million, then they want a hundred million. They get that, and it is not long before they want a billion.
A church gets ten new members. It soon wants twenty more.
Publishers make billions of dollars selling self-help books, bought by people who want to change who they are. The funny thing is, people who buy one of these usually buy ten more. There is never enough, even of self-help!
We find our heart’s desire, but it is not long before we want something new.
Are we ever satisfied? Qohelet says that circle of life is wearisome. Whatever we have, we want more. We are never full. We are never fully satisfied. The circle of life is a metaphor for the fact that we are chasing our own tails. In a sense we are like Adam and Eve in the Garden. We have everything we need, yet it is not enough.
At the end of this passage Qohelet says, “Life is an endless circle; what we had, we will have again, What we did, we will do again.”
Marcus Aurelius wrote, “All things are the same, familiar in experience and ephemeral in time, and worthless in the matter. Everything now is just as it was in the time of those whom we have buried.”
Qohelet says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” He uses the phrase, “under the sun” almost as much as he uses the phrase, “Havel, havelim.”
We can take this passage to be depressing. Life is an endless struggle of striving, pointless and futile. We are like Sisyphus, rolling a large stone up a hill, only to have it roll back down just as we get it to the top.
Or we can take it another way. We have all we need in life. What if we could learn to be satisfied with what we have?
Thoughts and Questions
- Take a hard look at what you have. What are you lacking? What if all that you have is all you will have. Can you live with that?
- What is it in us that makes us want more? What was it in Adam and Eve, and in us, that makes it hard for us to enjoy Eden?
- America is one of the richest nations on the face of the earth, and yet our stores are full of people who want to buy more things. Have you ever considered a fast from buying? As an experiment, take a week, and try to live off what you have. Don’t eat fancy meals. Don’t buy new things. Try to spend a week without wanting. Instead, try to be satisfied with what you have. See how that affects your attitude.