Every now and then, some pastors make all their sermon points alliterate. It’s kinda catchy. This post is a summary of a message I heard from Pastor Jack Graham on a radio program called Power Point. In this message, he summarized the book of Ecclesiastes like this:
Don’t look for the meaning of life in these things (all begin with the letter L):
- Love / lust
and I added one more:
King Solomon was one of the smartest men in the world. People from all over the ancient world traveled to Jerusalem to hear him speak and asked him to adjudicate their cases, knowing that justice will prevail. He devoted his energies to learning in the pursuit of the meaning of life. Yet, he concluded that learning is meaningless.
Now, the Bible is not anti-intellectual and it does values knowledge and wisdom and understanding. There are plenty of very smart and wise people in the Bible who are commended. But when people try to find meaning in life in learning, they are sorely disappointed. For one, there is such much more to learn and not enough time or brain matter. For another, almost every profession in America requires its practitioners to take continuing education if they wish to keep their certification. And when it comes to astronomy, what we thought we knew for sure in the early 2000s have been challenged and rewritten in the 2010s. Just thinking about that causes me to despair.
When Solomon had realized that learning wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, he devoted his energies to leisure. Surely, leisure will give meaning, right? Again, Solomon found leisure wasn’t that great either.
Fast forward three thousand years to the year 2018. Every night, I see commercials for cruises – Carnival, Disney, Viking – all showing happy people. There are families rubbing elbows with Disney characters. While on a European river cruise, people get to experience the Old World charms. Last year, I boarded a cruise ship from Sydney, Australia and cruised around New Zealand. Sounds like a happy trip, right?
For the most part, I had fun. But then, there were days on the ship when I was bored. Yes, bored. I don’t drink, I don’t gamble, I don’t always socialize, the movies offered on the ship’s cinema were not that appealing, and there is only so much food you can eat. Fortunately, I brought a journal, my Kindle and Google Play Books with plenty of books. My point is, you would think being on a cruise ship would make me happy. I did not have to go work and I did not have internet access. You would think that would make me happy. Nope.
And what about the others on the ship? Sure, they had fun. But when I went to a mixer and met others who had been on multiple cruises this year and others before, you would think they would be happy to be here. Nope. Some were blase. Some of them were complaining. Really? Really? On what the commercials say is a happy place? Well, if you want to be a hedonist, if you want to go after leisure, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
King Solomon had gone after laughter. After all, who doesn’t like a good comedian? Who doesn’t like a good joke? Who doesn’t prefer laughing over crying? After a while, he too found it meaningless.
I can see why Solomon would find it meaningless. You just can’t be happy all the time. And as for comedians, some comedians tell only jokes full of innuendo – some will laugh, but others might be offended. Others tell political jokes, using lampooning the President. Again, some will laugh, but others will be offended. After all, there are some lines you don’t cross, even in a free world.
In every organization, there is always a joker, the class clown, the office prankster, the one who cannot resist making light of everyone. But again, there are certain lines you cannot cross without consequences and there is always the right time and place, and people, for joking. Laughter makes life better, not the meaning of life.
The evils of drunkenness are well documented. Enough said. If you have a substance abuse problem, go get help.
King Solomon was a builder. He built the first Temple and then he built his palace. He also built other buildings. Yet he too found his labors meaningless. Solomon realized that the ones coming after him would not appreciate his work and might even squander it all it away. And Solomon was right. In 586 BC, the Babylonians destroyed his temple and leveled much of Jerusalem.
The second Temple did not fare much better. It was set on fire accidentally during the siege in 70 AD. The general Titus had the Temple dismantled to get at the gold that had melt into the stones from the heat of the fire.
In 2018, people are still devoting all their energies to work and it is getting worse. People take work home. People check their work emails at home and for some, they have made it normal. In fact, some even take their work on vacation. They don’t want to be unreachable or fear the fact that missing out one email will cause them to lose their jobs or lose money. For some, they have made it a badge of honor.
But as Jesus asked: What does it profit a man if he should gain the world but lose his soul? What good is it if a man becomes a millionaire, gains accolades, but loses his family? Or worse, his soul, as he cut corners and backstabbed his friends?
Love and lust
Solomon also went after pleasures from the fairer sex. He did end up with 700 wives and 300 concubines. And after a while, he too found that meaningless.
I’ve always wondered: how does he have time for all those women? What was his personality type (MBTI)? Was he so extroverted so he could talk to multiple people and not get tired? Was he particularly handsome? There is a good chance that some were political marriages so many he did not have to see those women as regularly as the ones he actually liked? And how many did he go after simultaneously? And how did he keep track of all their names?
Any way, eventually, Solomon realized that lust and not even love was the ultimate meaning of life.
And I just realized one more:
Although it was not in the book of Ecclesiastes, nevertheless, this is worth considering. Legalism is not just following the laws and regulations; it makes following the law the defining principles of your life. Some people have a “Filthy Five” or “Dirty Dozen” – a list of things they do not do; they also judge others for failing to follow those rules, and more importantly, none of those rules even are the most serious in the world! Certainly, they have nothing to do with justice, mercy, and humility.
In conclusion, what are you looking for to find meaning in life? If you want to find meaning in learning, leisure, laughter, liquor, labor, lust, or legalism, you will be sorely disappointed. The wisest man tried it and realized the meaning of life was not there.