“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)
Augustine, the famous theologian of the fourth century, reminds us in a well-known saying that earthly pleasures can never really satisfy the human heart. He wrote: “You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Interestingly, this is one of the central themes of the book of Ecclesiastes: life, apart from God, is empty and meaningless.
Perhaps you are wondering why Solomon begins his observations about life on such a dismal note. I’ll tell you why: I think he wants to apply some shock therapy to us, especially if we are trying to find fulfillment in life on our own terms. He wants us to realise that life is futile and vain if we try to find satisfaction in created things rather than the Creator.
Perhaps you may be thinking, “Oh, come on, there’s lots of ways to have a good time in this world!” No doubt there are, but Solomon’s point is that none of them bring solid joys and lasting treasures. Solomon explored all the avenues of life which he thought might satisfy his yearnings but he discovered that neither work nor pleasure nor intellectual pursuits gave him the satisfaction for which he craved.
Interestingly, Solomon plunged into the experience of pleasure in the hope that it would give him the ultimate trip. However, he tells us upfront that it was a real let down. I guess we should be thankful that he didn’t beat around the bush when he gives us his evaluation of living life on the basis of feelings. He comes straight to the point and tells us where it leads. “It’s meaningless,” he says.
Now that’s not what the manufacturers of Coke, Pepsi, Apple or Toyota tell us when they are trying to sell their products. They claim that if we buy their goods, then we’ll get life to the max and feel wonderful. Whereas cigarette companies have to put warnings on their packets, most other producers don’t warn us that their products won’t give us everything they claim. In other words, they lie to us. Every day we’re being lied to and if we don’t listen to Solomon, we’ll be taken in by it. We will begin to think that created things can supply lasting pleasure.
In 2:1-11, Solomon sets out to prove that the fleeting feelings of pleasure that we experience in this world will always leave us short. Solomon tried pleasure of every kind – entertainment, fine wine, sex, and high culture – you name it, he tried it. However, he discovered that it’s impossible to find ultimate meaning and satisfaction in something which is a creature rather than the Creator.
So where do Christians find true pleasure? The Bible tells us that the ultimate source of our pleasure must be God. As the psalmist says, “in Your presence is fullness of joy… O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 16:10, 34:8). Do you see what God is saying to us? He says that when we see the incomparable glory and blessedness of God, we won’t try and find ultimate meaning in created things. We may be thankful for them, but we will never make them idols which we serve and worship.