Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 12, The Man Who Enjoys Nothing

Solomon speaks of the man who has it all but enjoys none of it. Some commentators compare the depth of his depression with that of Job, and rightly so, which is why it seemed timely for us to study Ecclesiastes right after Job. These men lived vastly different lives from each other but both experienced deep despair and doubts. They illustrate the point that it's not our circumstances that dictate our satisfaction with life, but it's our relationship with the Lord. Job was a man whose life was full of blessings, blessings he knew how to enjoy, blessings without which he didn't want to continue living. Solomon was also a man whose life was full of blessings, but he found himself incapable of enjoying them, and he too found life not worth living. Today he talks about how terrible it is to possess many things and much wealth but not be able to find any pleasure in them.

"I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil." (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2) Solomon pointed out earlier in the week that the more our riches increase the more we will have false friends who want to hang around and enjoy our wealth. I can't help picturing him at a lavish party in the king's palace, where the wine flows freely and every type of rich food imaginable is laid out on an extra long buffet table. There is music and dancing and revelry. The people who are attracted to his wealth are having a fabulous time, living it up and enjoying the advantages that come along with being friends of the king. He feels disconnected with these "friends" who seem more like strangers to him. I picture Solomon wandering out into his dark gardens in a spirit of deep despair. He has it all but it means nothing to him. His heart is empty. His soul longs for something more. He wonders, "Why did You make me this way, God? If You were going to give me all this, why didn't You make me able to enjoy it?" He doesn't know yet what a blessing this is. If God had not created us with souls incapable of finding joy apart from a relationship with Him, what kind of empty lives would we lead? How would we ever come to know our Redeemer and Friend?

"A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man---even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?" (Ecclesiastes 6:3-6) Some scholars believe Solomon himself had a hundred children when he wrote verse 3. It's entirely possible, considering how many wives he had, but the Bible only mentions his son and heir, Rehoboam, and it names two daughters in the book of 1 Kings. Solomon asks, "What difference does it make how many heirs I leave behind, or how much wealth I accumulate, when I am going to have to face death someday? What have I really accomplished? Will my name be remembered? Will my tomb be visited? Have I left a worthwhile legacy behind? Oh, it's all so pointless I wish I'd been born dead! We are all going to the grave anyway; better I should have been born dead and never have experienced this awful despair of the soul! I have no rest, no peace, no joy in anything."

His words about a stillborn child may sound cruel and heartless, especially to anyone who has ever lost a child. But I think we have to keep in mind how overwhelming his depression is at this point. If he were living in our times he would probably be heavily medicated right now or even hospitalized. Like Job, he stops just short of attempting to take his own life, but he's about one step away from being suicidal. Job expressed his wish that the Lord would just go ahead and take him out of this world; Solomon cries out that he wishes he'd never been born or drawn his first breath. Both of these statements are proof that these men suffered enormously with mental anguish. This is why we must never make the mistake of judging anyone of weakness when they fall into despair. Some of the strongest and most manly men of the Bible temporarily lost their will to live. Even the Lord Jesus Christ, on the night before His crucifixion, said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Matthew 26:38) We have no business looking down on anyone when they are caught in the grip of despair and depression. Our business is to encourage and help them in a Christlike way. Today it might be our friend or neighbor who is so sorrowful they have lost the will to live; tomorrow it might be us.

"Everyone's toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied. What advantage have the wise over fools? What do the poor gain by knowing how to conduct themselves before others? Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 6:7-9) He says, "We spend our lives working so we can fill our mouths and bellies with food. We have to work if we want to eat, yet this means we do the same things over and over again, day after day. The meals we eat today will be used up by tomorrow and we will have to toil again for food. And what good is it to be wise? Is a wise man like me any better off than a fool? At least the fools are able to enjoy my wine and food. They know how to live in the moment and not worry about tomorrow. Maybe I'd be happier if I were just like them. Better to enjoy what's right in front of me than to continually long for something more."

"Whatever exists has already been named, and what humanity is has been known; no one can contend with someone who is stronger. The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?" (Ecclesiastes 6:10-11) Solomon takes a fatalistic view of humans and the world. He thinks, "Who we are and what we possess in this life has already been determined for us. Who can fight against the Lord? He has assigned one fate to this one, another to that one. But when I look at the history of mankind on the earth I see nothing new. We keep doing the same things, performing the same work, and dreaming the same dreams. It makes me tired to think about it. Like a word that's repeated over and over until it loses its meaning, the things we do on this earth are repeated over and over until they lose their meaning."

"For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?" (Ecclesiastes 6:12) Solomon is still mainly concerned with worldly things. He does not have his mind set on eternal things. He's spent his life enjoying worldly pleasures and finding them lacking; now his mind churns day and night trying to figure out what life is really all about. Like the character of the Grinch, he's puzzled until his puzzler is sore. And also like the Grinch, he will end up thinking of something he hasn't thought of before. Maybe life is about something much more than making a name for oneself, or amassing a fortune, or siring many children, or building huge cities and palaces, or being remembered by the history books. He will come to understand that he's found no joy in living because God created mankind with a need to worship someone bigger than himself. And if man does not let God be Lord of his life, he will make gods of other things or other people. These other things and other people will fail to deliver on their promises. They will fall short of providing the meaning that we all long for. But God will never fail to keep His promises. The Lord Jesus Christ has promised us a full and meaningful and abundant life...in Him. Without Him we will end up like Solomon: disappointed and disillusioned. But with Christ as Lord of our lives, everything takes on new meaning and significance. With Christ at the center of all that we do, we are "filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy". (1 Peter 1:8) Or, as the King James Version so beautifully puts it, we "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory". I want that in my life, don't you?

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