Everything is Meaningless

By J. L. Dunsmore

Life is given meaning by partnering with God.

Everything is meaningless! Fun to say, isn’t it? That might not be something you would expect to see in the Bible, but this is the line that inspired my love for the book of Ecclesiastes. In my second summer working at my home church, I stumbled upon Ecclesiastes and I was immediately enamored with it. I spent two weeks coming to my office every morning and, reading it chunk by chunk, trying to understand it. I wrestled with the meaning the author was trying to convey. While I struggled to swallow, I could not help but accept the conclusion of the matter: “Everything is meaningless” (Eccl 1:2).

Isn’t this idea the total opposite of what Christianity teaches though? How can everything be meaningless? These are some questions that kept badgering me, constantly seeking answers. It felt like my world had been turned upside down. I tried to ignore the conclusion for a long time because of how “problematic” it was to my worldview. This is common in Christian circles, where we often get so caught up in knowing the absolute truth that we stop asking important questions in an attempt to toe the line in our church. Much to my dismay, I could not keep ignoring these questions. Eventually, I would have to deal with them head on.

In the summer of 2018, I went to Guatemala with a group of people from around the Atlantic Canada district. Initially, I did not want to go on this trip. I had plans to go to a youth conference in Arizona the next year, and that’s what I was putting my money towards. However, God, it seems, had other plans. I spent weeks fighting with God over where I was going to go, and eventually, it was obvious Guatemala was where I needed to be. So, despite my efforts, I stopped beating my chest and decided to partner with God. After that, things started to fall into place for me to go to Guatemala.

Not long after I agreed to go, my dad, whom I had not talked to in about ten years, called my mom to clear up an issue. While they were talking, my mother mentioned the mission trip, and my dad was ecstatic. He asked to talk to me, and after having a heart-to-heart, he offered to pay $1000 to help me. Now, what he did not know is that I was exactly $1000 short of being able to afford the trip. While the financial aid was certainly welcome, what was more important to me was the reconnection between me and my father. I had spent years hating him because of his and my mom’s divorce. But through that phone call, we could talk to one another and establish a new relationship. God was already moving, but this was only the beginning.

A large part of the trip to Guatemala was focused on kids’ ministry. While there, we would lead several events for the children and youth in the church we were partnering with. We had big plans. We brought multiple hockey bags full of soccer balls, toys, art supplies, and puppets. It was going to be awesome. But when we finally arrived in Guatemala, all of those plans came crashing down. Unfortunately, there had been some miscommunication over what our role was going to be. It turns out, the church we were working with didn’t even have kids or youth ministry program! Months of planning and preparing went out the window in the blink of an eye.

While it would have been easy to hang our heads and mope in this situation, doing so would not have been helpful. We knew God was calling us to do something in Guatemala, and this change of plans would not stop us. So, we got in touch with one of the local private schools. Initially, the school didn’t want us to come because they did not want missionaries on their premises. Despite this, when we reached out to them—after finding out our old plans had fallen through, they agreed to have us come in. The only stipulation was that we could not talk about God. So that afternoon we went to the school and played soccer with some kids there, and a few people shared their testimonies. After a few hours, we were getting ready to leave, when the head of the school approached our team leader and told him if we wanted to come back, we were welcome to. And we could talk about whatever we wanted!

In the course of a few days, the school had gone from not wanting missionaries to wanting us to come back and talk about whatever we wanted—including God. Of course, we took them up on the offer! The next day we returned and played some soccer with them again. But this time, once the game was done, we broke off into groups so we could tell them about Jesus Christ. That day, seventy youth decided to trust in Jesus and become Christians. What started off as misfortune, within a few days, was turned into a blessing. God was on the move.

This is a great story and one I love to tell whenever I am given the opportunity. But this story is totally different had we not made working with God central to our mission. What would have happened if we had arrived in Guatemala, received the news that all our plans were moot, and then moped for a week and went home? Nothing! The trip would have been meaningless! Fortunately, that is not the approach we took. Instead, we humbled ourselves and made the choice to follow God in whatever direction God was going to work. Because partnering with God was our team’s priority, God could move through us.

Anything we do in life needs to have God as the foundation. If that isn’t the case, then whatever it is we are doing has no meaning. Whenever we do anything, we need to examine the motives for our actions. If we had simply gone to Guatemala to be “good” people, what would we have accomplished? We could have made people happy for a period of time; but, like anything else, that happiness would pass like a gust of wind. Here one moment and gone the next. Our mission would have been centered around human efforts and momentary happiness, which is meaningless.

The author of Ecclesiastes lists many examples of things in our lives that change inevitably. The sun rises, and the sun sets. A generation of people is born only to be replaced by the next generation after them. Likewise, eventually the work we did in Guatemala would pass. We would leave and people would move on with their lives. Had we gone with the intent of just “being good people,” nothing would be accomplished in the long-term. In a world subject to change, we must base our lives on something that doesn’t change.

My friend, Michael, puts this point beautifully. You’ve probably heard someone say that if you’re ever lost, you should look for the North Star. Because of how Polaris is oriented in relation to the Earth’s axis, it appears to move minimally. Because it does not move, it is the safest thing to use as a guide. Likewise, God’s nature doesn’t change. As God was yesterday, so God is today, and so God will be tomorrow. God is the perfect North Star, never changing in character and seeking to guide us out of the wilderness. We can establish a relationship with God based on his unchanging love.

When we decide to partner with God and make God our North Star, we begin becoming more and more like God. Through this, we find something that is truly meaningful; a relationship with someone who doesn’t change and loves infinitely. When we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, we find true purpose. And then it is our job to partner with God so more people can be transformed by love. What gave that Guatemala trip meaning was not the fun we had or the momentary happiness (though those were great). Rather, it was the transformation of the hearts and minds of seventy youth in one day that gave the trip meaning. Partnering with God gave the trip purpose. We alone could not do that, we needed God.

Everything is meaningless if we don’t partner with God. Anything done by humans alone will eventually pass away. Generations will come and generations will go, eventually being lost in the current of time. But, when we partner with the One who will not change or fade away, are transformed in the divine image. And, by working with God to bring the good news of love and transformation, eternities are changed. This, I have found, is not meaningless; rather, it makes life full of meaning!

Question: What are steps you can take to make God the North Star of your life? 

Joey Dunsmore is a volunteer youth leader and guitar player at Amherst Wesleyan Church in Amherst, Nova Scotia. Joey is currently studying at Kingswood University for his Bachelor of Theology. He enjoys listening to podcasts, cheering for the Vancouver Canucks, and is always open to discussing theology.

To purchase the book from which this essay comes, see Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Book-Cover-683x1024.jpg