Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Ecclesiastes 2: Chasing After the Wind

"I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless" (Ecclesiastes 2:1).

The Teacher spends most of chapters 1 and 2 of his treatise discussing various ways in which he sought the meaning of life. He tried philosophy, looking at the world under the sun, but he found that from wisdom comes sorrow and grief (1:12–18). He tried hedonism and the pursuit of pleasure but found it empty (2:1–3).

Then he tried power and wealth, not for their own sakes, but in order to accomplish great works; but surveying his works, he found them empty (2:4–11). He stopped to reflect on his circumstances and realized that eventually, he would die, and all that he had accomplished would fall into the hands of others. His heirs might be fools who would destroy all his achievements. This too he found to be empty and futile (2:12–23).

Then the Teacher shifts gears from the perspective under the sun to the perspective above the sun, under heaven. A man can indeed find satisfaction in eating and drinking, in his work, and in wisdom, but only if he realizes that they are given him by God for God’s purposes (2:24–26).

Involved in the Teacher’s discussion is his critique of three philosophical outlooks on life that were common in the ancient world and are prevalent today. The ancient Stoics, faced with the meaninglessness of life under the sun, said that the key to happiness was through seeking control of your emotions and being imperturbable. But where does this lead you? Nowhere, says the Teacher. Philosophy leads only to more despair (Ecclesiastes 1:12–18).

The ancient Epicureans sought to achieve happiness through the maximization of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. They found, though, that when you have enough pleasure, it becomes boring. Thus, they decided to seek the optimum rather than the maximum pleasure, but changing words does not remove the problem. Pleasure for its own sake becomes empty soon enough (Ecclesiastes 2:1–3).
The ancient political philosophers sought to achieve happiness through the development of a balanced state or through great empires and mighty works. But such works of man do not endure, as the Teacher had personally discovered (Ecclesiastes 2:4–23).

To deny that pleasure, wisdom, and work are not ultimately worthy of our pursuit does not disqualify them entirely. What, if any, of God’s good gifts to you have become imbalanced and out of proper perspective?