“‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold this also was vanity” Ecclesiastes 2:1
As I work on this lesson I find myself realizing that this is the stage of life, as Solomon describes them that I find myself. I am enraptured with pleasure. Good friends, good food, and good fun are the places where I find joy. So it is with a heavy heart that I must write that these things fun and enjoyable as they may be cannot bring lasting or ultimate pleasure!
Solomon continues his discussion of useless things here in chapter two of Ecclesiastes by bursting the soap bubble of pleasure. He comes to it as a man just off a night of self reflection, and begins to discuss the parts of his life where pleasure and achievement were everything to him.
It is in this discussion of his life of pleasure that Solomon makes note of two things that are important to understand about pleasure and achievement.
- Pleasure is Good, but Too Much is Sorrow
“Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness.” Prov. 14:13
Pleasure is a gift of God! There can be no denying this fact. For some reason back in the middle ages and even before people got a view of God as this heavenly school teacher who was just there to wag a finger and take away all the fun. At one point a child even using his imagination was considered a sin, but this is not the God we see pointed to in our bible.
The God we see in the bible is a God who led his people to a land of pleasure flowing with “milk and honey”. A God who threw feast and party for every little event in the lives of the Jewish people. Even James in the new testament says “every good and perfect gift is from above”
There is a down side to pleasure though, this comes in the law of diminishing returns. The essence of this law is that the more you do something the less pleasure you will get. This means that to get the same amount of pleasure you will have to increase your activity. We see this most acutely in drug addiction. At first one hit of whatever drug you use will get you high, but as you continue using you need more and more of that drug to get the same high.
The Law of Diminishing returns holds true weather you pleasure is gained from drugs, sex, gambling, video games, or any other pleasurable activity. If all you are gaining is pleasure than it will eventually turn sour and sorrowful.
2. Achievement is Good, but Cannot Bring Happiness
“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem.” -Ecc 2:7
Solomon was, as has been said before, one of the wisest men who ever lived. Due to his wisdom he was also one of the greatest kings both Israel and the world had ever seen. Solomon outlines some of his greatest achievements here in this chapter. He achieved more than any other king of Israel and yet he still found no lasting joy in his achievements.
No one can say that being productive and having great works and achievements is a bad thing. The Bible has plenty to say on those who are lazy and slothful, but achievement can have its own dangers.
Achievement for achievement sake, however, lends itself to becoming an escape to the rest of life. Those who become “workaholics” fall to the same vanity and uselessness that we discussed about pleasure. Eventually the law of diminishing returns causes you to need more and more; and bigger and bigger achievements.
However, Achievements also has its own unique struggle and that is the struggle of becoming a god to yourself. When your good works, and your achievements become so important that God becomes a secondary character in your life. You begin to elevate your own interests above the interests of others. The ultimate end of this struggle comes as you get to the end of your life and there are no more achievements to be gained. Then you become useless, and your god is no more.
Solomon looked on pleasure and achievement and pronounced judgement. Without God they are useless and vain pursuits.