What Ecclesiastes can teach us about fulfilling our longings.
When are we coming out of this?
The answer, I think, is gradually. It will be a gradual reemergence into stores, restaurants and public in general. And perhaps, for you, that will begin sooner than later. And while there will inevitably be some measure of trepidation at this reemergence, in that we will certainly not want to jump on a mosh pit on Day 1, surely there are places you know you want to go. Restaurants you want to eat at. Friends you want to see in person.
We are hungry for these things, and because we are, it might be just the right time for us to read a book like Ecclesiastes.
In Ecclesiastes, we find an almost scientific reflection on every pursuit ultimately leaves one disappointed. Our natural propensity is to find something that brings us the slightest amount of joy, the slightest amount of comfort or happiness, and we give ourselves fully to it. We lay down our lives for it. We worship at its altar only to find that our thirst is not truly quenched; our desires are not truly satisfied; our longings are not truly fulfilled. In the end, that which promised us happiness leaves us with a gaping kind of inner sickness:
“I said to myself, ‘Go ahead, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy what is good.’ But it turned out to be futile. I said about laughter, ‘It is madness,’ and about pleasure, ‘What does this accomplish?’ I explored with my mind how to let my body enjoy life with wine and how to grasp folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—until I could see what is good for people to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.” —Ecclesiastes 2:1–3
Futility. Madness. Emptiness. This is the constant refrain of the Teacher as he soaked the marrow out of pleasure, work, time, knowledge, and even wisdom itself, and with each one, found it wanting. Meaningless! Vanity! Each and every time.
Now how does that apply to us right now? It is because we have, or soon will have, a multitude of opportunities at our disposal. The ability to do things, to do places, to experiences that which we have not for a good amount of time. And as we come upon those opportunities, it would be a healthy exercise for us to remember the teacher’s experience in Ecclesiastes as he pushed every thing the world could offer him to its end.
Each and every one of these aspects of life were obliterated. Destroyed. Crushed under the weight of his expectations. With each one, the teacher found that they couldn’t provide the kind of satisfaction that we desire. Work never truly satisfies. Pleasure is never really enough. Knowledge is never really fulfilling.
That’s the bad news of Ecclesiastes. Whenever we look to anything under the sun for fulfillment and satisfaction, we will eventually cry, “Meaningless!” as it is crushed.
But that’s also the good news of Ecclesiastes. This is more than just disappointment—it’s disappointment by design.
God has made these things in such a way that they will crumble. Each and every one. And with each and every crumbling, we are reminded of the vanity of everything under the sun when we put too much weight on it. And as we are reminded, we are also reminded that we must look out from under the sun for meaning. For purpose. For fulfillment.
Here is a book for now, because we will soon be in a time when we will want to live. To do. To experience. To drink in. But here is a book that reminds us that we are stricken with the disease of falling perpetually short in our pursuits. It’s not that we are pursuing the wrong things; it’s that we are pursuing those things to the wrong ends and in the wrong ways. When everything under the sun disappoints, we have no other option to look out from under the sun for what truly satisfies, before it’s too late:
“Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods.” —Isaiah 55:1–2
Before we start to drink deeply of everything the world has outside to offer, let us remind ourselves of what it does not. And move cautiously forward, having placed our expectations in the right place.