Imagine that you just graduated from a Masters’ degree program and received a promotion at work as a result, and someone asked you, ‘What does it matter?’ with reference to your graduation and promotion. You might be taken back by the brashness of their question but you’re a polite person so you respond by saying, ‘Well, it helped to equip me to do my job better and now, as a result of taking a position of greater responsibility, I take home more money to benefit my family.’ You think you hit their underhanded, off-speed, softball pitch of a question out of the park. But they don’t. Unmoved, they unleash a series of existential questions with more than hint of nihilism to boot: ‘So what? What does it really matter if you do your job a little better and bring home a little more money? So you make someone’s day potentially a wee bit brighter? Eventually darkness will set in and your ‘momentary brightness’ will be eclipsed and forgotten by the pain of life’s tragedies. And what exactly does a little bit more money do for your family? Add a little bit more activity, entertainment, and comfort to your fleeting life? You won’t even remember 1% of it when you’re on your deathbed and neither will those you spent that time with.’ It’s at this point you realize why this person doesn’t have many friends. He lacks a filter but he is asking questions that demand an answer. In the final analysis, what profit is there in wisdom – whether it be intellectual or moral?
Tag: vanity (Page 1 of 2)
So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem.
Considering all that Solomon wrote prior to this verse, fame would be the seemingly inevitable outcome. Nevertheless, he made the point, even as he did earlier – “I became great” (2:9a; cf. 1:16). Having surpassed his predecessors in wisdom, works, and wealth, he also surpassed them in magnificence and as a result he became a titan of notoriety. Yes, the geographical reference of Eccl. 2:9 is limited to Jerusalem, but the reverberations of Solomon’s fame spread well beyond Israel’s capital. The Queen of Sheba, for instance, “heard of the fame of Solomon” (1 Ki. 10:1) and came from “the ends of the earth” to hear his wisdom (Mt. 12:41). Perhaps this is where the previous conclusions of meaninglessness would give way to that which is meaningful. Perhaps the vanity of pleasure and possessions was a poor substitute for the worthy endeavor of a celebrated perception. Not quite.
8b I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds. (Eccl. 2:8b)
Entertainment didn’t cut it for Solomon either. While typically reserved for feasts and banquets, he had for himself male and female singers. If you’re impressed with iTunes or Spotify, imagine what it would be like if you could have live performances at your disposal whenever you wanted. Before you marvel too long at Solomon’s entertainment options, you’d do well to consider how he might have marveled if he knew what would be available to the average Westerner in the 21st century. Who could have imagined screens of all different sizes providing seemingly instant access to music, movies, news, and just about any piece of information one could want? You probably don’t need either Solomon or I to tell you – trying to find fulfillment in the transient distraction of entertainment is vanity (cf. Eccl. 2:11). Sure, Nabal’s feast was festive (1 Sam. 25:36) until his heart died within him and he became like a stone (vs.37). Sure, Herodias’ illicit dancing pleased Herod (Mt. 14:6); in fact, Herod even found John’s preaching entertaining (cf. Mk. 6:20); and this man was so addicted to amusement that when he had the Son of God in front of him he didn’t worship Him; rather, he wanted a miracle to be done by Him (Lk. 23:8).
If you asked yourself, ‘What are some of the things that people try to find joy and fulfillment in?’, provided you live in a somewhat developed part of the world, at some point you’d probably include in your list – things. Stuff. Possessions. Money. Gold. Shoes. Old Baseball cards. And so on. Despite Jesus’ instruction that life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions (Lk. 12:15), it’s not uncommon to find those who live like it does. Jesus’ words, you could say, are corroborated by Solomon’s experience. He was a man who had just about everything he wanted to have, and found that everything wasn’t enough.
Solomon’s pursuit of pleasure did not cease with his failed experiments in the areas of partying, laughing, and drinking (Eccl. 2:1-3). He pressed on. Not to an OT equivalent of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14); but, in continued attempts to find meaning and fulfillment, he surveyed the sensations that accompanied success in the hopes of finding fulfillment therein. Next up, building and real-estate beautification.