Message Text: Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
King Solomon is on the hunt. He's chasing what he thinks will make him happy. Our passage today breaks down this way:
The Pleasure Hunt (1-3) “Let’s party.”
The Measure Hunt (4-7) “Let’s build.”
The Treasure Hunt (8-11) “Let’s acquire.”
Billy Graham once wrote, "I've met so many entertainment stars whose day is past. How unhappy and lonely and empty they feel. I've talked with many athletes and former political leaders who feel the same way. They have a moment of glamour, a moment when they're known, a moment when their name is on the front page; then it is over. And now they feel lonely, unhappy, and empty."
We could call this section of Ecclesiastes at “When all you have ever wanted is not enough.” I want to begin by asking some very simple questions but with very difficult answers. 1). Are you happy? 2). What is it that will finally make you happy? 3). When will you finally be happy? If all the other books of the Bible have the answers, then there is one book that presents the questions.
I find that I don’t run from the answers. I like answers. But I run from the questions and chase other things. Our hearts are built for adventure, for the chase. But not to the neglect of the important questions of life. Hedonism is madness because it convinces you to never deal with the issues at hand. You just take a pleasure trip instead.
The things we do to avoid the ache of the unanswered questions is often worse than the ache itself. We can’t talk about any pleasure that Solomon didn’t try. You want to talk about drinking, he drank it all. You want to talk about accomplishments, he built it all. You want to talk about possessions, he made money and bought it all. You want to talk about women, he objectified and used them and experienced it all.
In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon is on the hunt – trying to find the door to meaning. Solomon had everything necessary to carry out his grand experiment. He had almost unlimited resources, money, and time. He’s chasing transcendence, but he thinks it’s something else. At one point in our text today, we read his words: I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. The promise of pleasure as the meaning of life was an empty promise. It brought no satisfaction. It brought no fulfillment. It was like grabbing smoke. It was like chasing wind. Solomon basically asks one question which he will try to answer a number of different ways – How can I be happy? How can I find meaning and purpose? We all want to be happy and we all seek pleasure in some form; we just take different paths to get there. God created a pleasurable world, full of multisensory joys!
Solomon wrote: Ecclesiastes 2:24 There is nothing better for a person than to eat and drink, and show himself some good in his trouble. This too I have seen, that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?
Moments of pleasure are the remnants washed ashore from a shipwreck in the Garden of Eden long ago. Our pleasures are bits of Paradise that extend into our time. We must hold these relics lightly, and use them with gratitude and restraint, never seizing them as entitlements. Live in the pleasure instead of living for the pleasure. When we live in the pleasure, we take the time to savor it; that moment becomes sacred. When we live for the pleasure, we often get so tied up with expectations, fear, anxiety, and a sense of entitlement that we rush right through it and never really enjoy it. Who do you think enjoys the chocolate chip cookie more – the person who eats two, slowly – or the one who eats the who bag in 5 minutes?
The problem with the human heart – like Solomon – is that we chase after things we can see, but our deepest need is not visible, it is invisible. In 430 AD, Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” When you come to Him by faith, when you place your life in His hands, in the moment you receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior your heart finds what it has been missing; and your destination changes – forever.
We go down the path of pleasure and when it doesn’t satisfy, rather than find a new path, we surmise, “Well, I just haven’t gone down the pleasure path far enough yet. I’ll keep going and get further in. And still we’re restless. Augustine eventually got to a dead-end and was man enough to admit, “Only God can fill with Himself what I’m trying to fill with pleasure.” The great tragedy that many of us face is the utter foolishness of trying to live life apart from God. Solomon tried to live life independently of God to see what it was like. What Solomon discovered was that all the things he accumulated and experienced wasn’t enough. And rather than change paths, he goes further down the path until he gets outright bitter about it all. “I pursued what everybody said I should and I paid a price to do it, but I’m still empty.” Solomon is saying, “Don't think that the next thing will do it; don't think that the more will do it, because I had the next thing and I had the more, and it didn't do it.”
What we learn in Chapter 2 is very relevant. Entertainment and comedy are not inherently bad, but it wasn’t enough. Seeking the pleasure of alcohol to cope with or numb the pain of life’s problems isn’t enough. Designing an architectural marvel or planting a breath-taking garden is not enough in itself to bring meaning and happiness to life. Though Solomon controlled everything from industry to commerce, he determined that without God the destination is not happiness, but bitterness. If you have everything, and you don’t know the One who gave it, you’ll be miserable. And I you know the One who gives everything, you don’t need what you think you do to have joy.