Friday, October 10, 2014

Looking In The Wrong Places

Ecclesiastes 1:12-19

“I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.  And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.” (Ecclesiastes 1:12-13)

As a young king, Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom to properly lead and teach Israel.  During his reign he actively promoted the development of science and engineering, getting involved himself with some of the research in an effort to help his people.  He studied everything that caught his attention wanting to understand how it worked, and sometimes it was a lot of work for little benefit.

“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.  That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14-15)

In the process of his studies, Solomon realized that ultimately, everything people did was in itself meaningless and frustrating.  No matter how hard one tried there were things that he couldn’t fix or prevent, and there are so many problems to be solved they can’t even be counted. 

“I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.  And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.  For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18)

Solomon realized he had had opportunities others didn’t have to make a difference, and yet the differences he made were minor and only temporary.  The more he learned how things could be the more frustrating it became to realize he was unable to effect permanent change.   He decided to try something different to see if it wouldn’t be more satisfactory.

“I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.   I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?  

I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3)

He thought making people laugh and having fun himself would give him a sense of value and peace.  Like Robin Williams, he discovered it wasn’t satisfying and was ultimately just a waste of his time.   Other people drank or use drugs to help them forget their frustration, while continuing to do their job so he decided to try it and see if it helped and was worth recommending.  As a result of his experiments he warned young people to avoid the use of alcohol in Proverbs.  It didn’t produce peace. 

“I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.

 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.  And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11)

Because having comedy and entertainment didn’t provide satisfaction and a sense of worth, even when he was getting and education and doing his best to help people and alcohol didn’t cure the dissatisfaction, he tried to assuage his sense of meaninglessness by getting and doing things.  He designed and built houses and gardens, businesses and game preserves.  He sponsored musical groups, and helped them develop better instruments.  He gained a huge level of influence and power, and thoroughly enjoyed all the things he was accomplishing, doing whatever he felt like doing. 

When he had done all these things he discovered that while he had enjoyed them, they didn’t produce a sense of real satisfaction and lasting value.  Things or even accomplishments and charitable actions provide only temporary pleasure.
“And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.
Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.  The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.
Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.  For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten.  And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.” (Ecclesiastes 2:12-16)

Frustrated that nothing was making him happy, Solomon compared the smartest and most educated men he knew to those who were mentally incapacitated or insane.  While those who were smart and made good choices had better lives, they were not happier than those who did not.   When they died they had no more control or influence over what happened than those who were incapable of making a good decision.  When they died there was no difference.  
“Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.  Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.  And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:17-19)

At this point Solomon considered suicide, feeling that all of life was meaningless and hopeless.  All his accomplishments would be left to other people to capitalize on, and there was no way to ensure that they would take advantage of them.  Even his own children could take the profits and spend them on foolish things, destroying everything he had worked for.  It was such a waste.

Solomon’s observations are just what many businessmen, actors and sports figures have discovered.  It is impossible to say how many have committed suicide by over use of drugs or alcohol, by driving too fast or by accidentally drowning.  Some, like Robin Williams use a more direct manner of suicide when the other ways take too long.  Some continue to madly pursue their career or wealth, hoping that more will take away the sense of unhappiness.  Others throw themselves into various causes to try to obtin some sense of relevance. 

Happiness will never be found in these kinds of things, and continuing to seek it such places can only result in depression.  They are looking in the wrong place.  Unfortunately, these are the places most people look, and as one investment adviser has said, if you do the same things everybody else does you will have the same results.   To get different results, you must do some thing different.

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