Sometimes we all feel like frauds. At times we feel like everyone else is experiencing something so wonderful while we are just putting on a show. Their relationships are so deep, their friendships are so real, their faith is so strong, their worship is so heartfelt, their marriage is so satisfying. But our relationships are so shallow, our friendships are so fake, our faith is so weak, our worship is so distracted, our marriage is so difficult.
That’s life under this sun. It’s a life of inadequacy, a life where we are never as fulfilled and satisfied as we want to be. For all the genuine joys this life brings, there is still and always the lingering sorrow of all that life is not and will never be.
Sometimes I like to sit and think about the books that push their way onto the lists of bestsellers. Almost by definition, each of the books that sells a half million or a million copies is addressing some kind of deep felt need. After all, why else would you buy it and why else would you recommend it to a friend except that it meets you where you’re at—it promises help in an area in which you feel incomplete or inadequate.
- The Purpose Driven Life promised to answer the ultimate question of life by helping us find our purpose. And who hasn’t felt unmoored, adrift, and purposeless in this world?
- Jesus Calling promised us more than hearing from God through the Bible. It held out the promise, or the possibility, that Jesus might speak to us in a new and fresh way and, perhaps even better, in a personal way.
- The Five Love Languages promised that it would give us better and longer-lasting relationships as we figured out how to relate in healthier ways.
- The Shack promised a new way to understand God and a much more personal way to relate to him than any we have known this side of Eden.
- 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven Is For Real—and all the other entries in the “I Went to Heaven” genre—promised answers to what we can only take by faith: that there is hope and life beyond the grave.
- Radical promised to help us shake off the unfulfilling dullness of the American Dream and to pursue something so much bigger and nobler than the accumulation of possessions and a savings account.
- Your Best Life Now promised that our lives could be better and happier, more fulfilling and more positive.
And on it goes. Every time a book hits the list of bestsellers, it is worth asking why it is there and what need it promises to address. There is the occasional exception, the occasional book that sells a million copies based on the popularity of the author (see anything related to Duck Dynasty) or because of brilliant marketing, but most books make the list because we put them there as we try to find answers to our deepest needs. Some of the most popular authors are adept at writing to our needs, even if they don’t answer them in a compelling and satisfying way.
A year ago I wrote about this very topic and suggested that the solution is found in Ecclesiastes and the single word Vapor. This was the refuge of Solomon in his book of Ecclesiastes. He begins his book and he ends it with the same cry of discontent: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” All of the pursuits of this life are vanity, all of them are vapor, all of them are chasing after the wind, an impossible pursuit that never ends and never brings deep and lasting satisfaction.
Has anyone in all of literary history written words that are more poignant, more unflinchingly realistic, than these?