I get such pleasure out of studying the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon gives us his autobiography raw and unedited and shows us his human frailties. He searched high and low for the meaning of life. He searched everywhere “under the sun” and discovered “vanity” upon “vanity” in his search. In chapter one he searched the world for knowledge. By chapter two he had moved on in hopes of finding the meaning of life in seeking pleasures, and that didn’t work. Next, he thought that starting a family and having an heir to pass on his wealth would make him happy, but in Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, Solomon laments the fact that it causes him grief to wonder if his heir will be wise with the fortune Solomon has built or if he will foolishly squander it. Next, Solomon observed all the “times” for everything and began looking at life from a fatalistic viewpoint, that is, that all things are governed by fate and they are unalterable. That is found in chapter three. And there are others.
Suffice it to say that Solomon was looking at this temporal world for happiness and the meaning of life. He was looking “under the sun” and not above the sun. Our aim for happiness lies beyond this world. Searching for happiness “under the sun” will leave God behind. Consider this scenario. You feel your life is in a rut. You’re unemployed and on state assistance. Things just aren’t happening for you. Your days are spent at home, alone, mourning your very existence. You decide to go to college to “better” yourself. Well, guess what. You quickly realize that with increased knowledge, comes increased responsibilities. That causes more stress than you hoped for, and BANG…you’re unhappy despite the knowledge you sought and gained.
But hey, you know you can just take that knowledge that has you in a job with responsibilities you don’t want and build more knowledge upon that, until you get promoted. Now we’re talking! More money will ease the stress of working at a job you don’t like! Now you can afford to buy a boat to take out on the water every weekend to “get away from it all.” That, we figure, will bring us the happiness that was missing from our lives. Forget about the fact that we are now locked in to paying for that boat. That locks us in to that job we don’t like. But there’s no way you’re willing to sell the boat…that boat brings you happiness…on the weekends. So for five days…forty hours every week…you’re willing to make yourself miserable for a few hours on the water one day a week.
Now, you begin thinking about your future children, your posterity. Most of us don’t have the problem of Solomon. Remember he had stress over whether his children would be wise with his fortune that would ultimately be left behind to them? We stress over the fact that we are so over extended that we have nothing for ourselves after we pay for all the toys bringing us happiness, let alone have anything to leave to our children when we die. So I see Solomon’s stress as our stress, only in the opposite form. In looking for happiness in a job…and not finding it; in looking for happiness in material pleasures…and not finding it; in looking for happiness in the idea of starting a family…you don’t find it. Why? Because we’ve been so selfish satisfying ourselves, that we either don’t feel financially stable enough to have children, or, we don’t believe we are willing to give up anything in order to have children. In either case, just as Solomon stressed over having children for one reason, so too, do we stress over having children for a completely different reason. So, not even children can bring us happiness if we’re looking “under the sun.”
So now you’re unhappy, but smarter and employed. You’re unhappy but wealthier with many toys thanks to your knowledge and training that got you the job and subsequent promotions. You’re unhappy, but don’t have the added burden of having to give up time, money, and energies to raise children. You feel stuck! You begin to believe you just weren’t as “lucky” as others you know who have success with everything they touch. But hey, you don’t want to feel like they’ve mastered something you couldn’t, so what do you do? You explain it all away the way Solomon did…it’s all fate! Those happy people were in the right place at the right time! Misery is your lot in life and there’s nothing you can do about it! It’s just the way the cookie crumbles…what will be will be!!!
Alright, for the first seven chapters Solomon felt that way. He went through growing pains. He went through a point where he had no Heavenly wisdom and insight. He was searching for what he lacked…happiness. He sought happiness and contentment and lasting satisfaction on his own. Solomon sought happiness, contentment, and lasting satisfaction according to what he, using his carnal mind, believed them to be (knowledge, riches, offspring, and a way to explain the timing of life’s events). Solomon reached the end of his understanding and realized he was “chasing the wind” (vexation of spirit) in Ecclesiastes 1:14. Despite his wealth, and the wisdom God had given him, he shot for his bull’s-eye and missed the target completely…because he was aiming with his own sights…not God’s.
Our bull’s-eye needs to be a deeply spiritual life. For example, in John 4, we read the account of Jesus with the woman and the well. This story reminds us that our physical bodies will always desire more. In this case, our physical bodies will always desire for water. Physical water will satisfy our physical needs temporarily, but our souls can be satisfied by living water (Jesus) that will never cause us to thirst again…spiritually. In other words, what we lack in our spirituality can be quenched, and we can begin to grow and change our thinking about what brings about happiness, contentment, and lasting satisfaction.
Contrast that teaching of Jesus with this account. In Luke 18:18-30, Jesus was approached by a man who wanted to be saved, and explained to Jesus that he kept all the Law from his youth. Jesus saw that his heart wasn’t into doing what the spirit of the Law was after…loving and helping others…and challenged him to sell his belongings and give his wealth to the poor. The man left sorrowful because he was extremely wealthy. His search for happiness was bound up in the same things Solomon went looking for.
Now let me ask you this. Who found true happiness, contentment, and lasting satisfaction? I’d say the woman at the well. Now let me ask you this. Don’t you think that if the rich young ruler had trusted Christ to change his temporal mind to a spiritual mind that the rich young ruler would have learned that being self-centered is not what brings happiness and such? But how would he have known that? Through the sanctification process that is done through the power of the Holy Spirit.
But you might remind yourself that Solomon was a godly man and he struggled with it. I know he did, he wrote it all down for us. Do you know how to combat that? Renew your mind with spiritual truths everyday (Romans 12:2). One truth we have to renew our minds to daily is the truth that we have had our flesh (and the lusts thereof) crucified with Christ (Galatians 5:24). Galatians 5:25 confirms that the Holy Spirit works the sanctification process in our lives: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” It’s also the work that Christ did for you at the time of salvation that leads you to begin finding the sources of true happiness. “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14). Don’t satisfy the flesh…it will only want more. Instead, display characteristics of Christ in your life (service to others first) and that will begin to bring you true happiness.
Imagine being uneducated. Imagine being employed at an entry level job all your life. Imagine having none of the trinkets that the world makes you believe you should have. Imagine having a quiver full of children. Imagine trusting in the sovereignty of God for all of life’s matters. Now…imagine how happy you would be! I was the old Solomon, but now I’m longing to be this guy I just described. There were many things I pursued that I felt were needs, but they were really desires. I sought happiness in a couple of material items that are now trapping me. Now I find myself wanting to shed them in order to expand and work in spiritual aspects of life, but I can’t because they’re not paid for yet.
The trouble is that the woman at the well, and the rich young ruler, can exist together at the same time in each of us. Our spiritual side will war with our carnal side and sometimes, one side wins and other times it’s the other side that wins. Read Romans 7:13-25 to see that Paul experienced this firsthand. But if we love those carnal things that bring us happiness, we do so at the neglect of the things of God…”No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). We can’t be godly and carnal at the same time. We can’t partake of water that quenches forever and seek after things that constantly leave us thirsting for more…it’s impossible. Remember, one side will win and the other will lose…you can’t serve two masters.
It’s arguable that Solomon was not saved at the time he wrote Ecclesiastes, but eventually he did get his sights on the things above. Unfortunately, despite partially writing three books of the Bible, Solomon’s latter years were riddled with sins and failures. This is fitting to remind us that no matter how far we’ve gotten in our spiritual walk, we can backslide. Also, remember that no matter how brilliant and Christ-like you are, you’re still imperfect and capable of anything. Never think you’re more than you are (Proverbs 16:18).
So, are you the Solomon of old? Are you the enlightened Solomon? Are you both at different times? Are you happy? Are you thirsty? Are you selfish and miserable? Are you “poor” but loving people and loving life? Are you trapped? It all comes down to this one question: Are you looking under the sun…or at the Son?