Blog Post

07 January 2015

Searching for Meaning

A Search for Meaning in Life

When WeakSide was just getting started, nearly 16 years ago, I thought that the accomplishment of musical success would bring real happiness and satisfaction into my life.  Well, though WeakSide is still far from laying our hands on anything close to “musical success” in the worlds eyes, I have come to learn (through other avenues in my life) that no amount of success on any worldly platform has the capability of offering me true happiness.  Oh, you don’t have to take my word for it, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take the word of the wisest man who ever lived!

Enter: King Solomon.

The story of Solomon’s pursuit for meaning actually begins in 1 Kings 3:5 while the king was fast asleep.  Far beneath the galaxies and solar systems hovering in the endless heavens, King Solomon was having a dream that would alter the course of his life forever.  In this dream, the Maker told Solomon to ask for anything he wanted.  While most men, given such a key to heaven’s blessings, would have asked for fame or health or wealth or some other self-focused treasure, Solomon chose wisdom.  He asked for a heart that could see deeper than the surface of things and people and situations, and God honored the king’s request by giving him “a wise and understanding heart” the likes of which this world has never known since (1 Kings 3:12).  His eyes were now opened to see the world from a whole new perspective.  For the first time, a world that once seemed flat suddenly exploded into a 3D picture in Solomon’s mind.  He could see past the surface of situations and conversations to the heart of the matter.  Complexities suddenly became elementary.

While this wisdom certainly ushered Solomon’s reign to the pinnacle of all kingdoms, it was not entirely without its downfalls.  From Solomon’s own pen we read that such wisdom was simultaneously both life-giving and frustrating (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18).  It was exhilarating because he was now processing life in a way much closer to what God intended.[1]  However, it was this wisdom that also destroyed Solomon’s luster for mortal things.  Intellectually, his senses were punched into overdrive.  Like a coffee drinker tasting the finest roasts, never able to go back to the Folger’s can, Solomon’s mind had drunk deeply of the mind of the God, and his spiritual taste buds would never again be pacified with lesser things.  Therefore, in his newfound wisdom, Solomon delved into a lifelong search for meaning and purpose and lasting substance “under the sun”.

His quest seemed to be fueled by two different ambitions.  First, he personally wanted to discover what this life held in store for a man who needed more than fluff to sustain him.  Like an infant completely satisfied with milk while an adult needs so much more, so it was with Solomon.  While the majority of the world has always been spiritual babies (seemingly content with lesser things) Solomon was given a heart that now craved substance of an eternal nature.

Secondly, as both a political and spiritual leader, Solomon was charged with the well-being of God’s people.  Much like a presidential security guard will do his best to make absolutely sure a location or situation is secure before allowing the president to enter, so Solomon went on a quest to determine the true nature of things in this life “under the sun” so that he might be most effective in guiding and guarding the people under his charge.  Ecclesiastes is the journal of his personal expedition to discover what was indeed worthwhile for mankind to pursue (Ecclesiastes 2:3b).

Right out of the gate, he began his search by examining the eternal quality of mirth (pleasure, gladness and laughter).  “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoypleasure’; but surely, this also was vanity.  I said of laughter – ‘Madness!’ and of mirth, ‘What does it accomplish?’”(Ecclesiastes 2:1-2).  In light of the fact that mirth is universally esteemed as a priceless commodity, this was a natural starting point for the wisdom-driven sojourner.  In today’s culture, the best-rated commercials and highest viewed television shows are the ones that generate the most laughs.  In everything from bumper stickers and t-shirts to sermons and sitcoms, a major consideration of today’s producers is laughter.  Will my product engender a smile?  Having sufficiently examined this avenue, Solomon concluded that laughter is good (like a medicine[2]), but it doesn’t satisfy.  Mirth is valuable, but it’s not enough to satisfy the God-shaped hole in our heart.

So Solomon ventured into the intoxicating realm of drink.  “I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine…”(Ecclesiastes 2:3).  One needs only watch the television advertisements for a few minutes to conclude that alcohol is a key player in our marketing industry today.  Its presence is plasteredon our billboards, promoted in our restaurants, pushed in our commercials and provided in nearly every gas station and grocery store across the country.  A huge portion of the world seems to have no idea how to actually host a celebration without it.  It has been hoisted onto such a lofty pedestal that its slogans have become the perceived reality of its consumers: “Where there’s life, there’s [alcohol]”; “It starts here”; “It’s all about the beer”; “It doesn’t get any better than this”; “Reach for greatness”; “Taste life…”.[3]  

However, this craving for drink is certainly not limited to alcohol.  The $100 billion worldwide coffee industry, second only to the oil industry, has sufficiently captured our fancies and our funds.  Then there is the tea industry that generates over $10 billion just in the United States.  This is to say nothing of the energy drink market, various sports drinks, soda industries, and the plethora of other beverage products.  The bottom line is that this world has always put a lot of stock in drinks, and, after examination, Solomon concluded that it doesn’t contain the ingredients necessary to fill the void in one’s heart.

Next, he turned his attention to accomplishments.  “I made my works great.  I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards.  I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove.” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6).  How vividly this picture portrays the traditional American dream.  Big house, green lawn, expensive landscape – symbols of an accomplished life.  Whether it is on the home front, at the work force, or in the hobby scene – we aspire to great accomplishments.  While that can certainly be a good thing under the right circumstances, it is not enough because the excitement and gratification wear off after time.

Having found no lasting satisfaction in accomplishments, Solomon steers his pursuit toward possessions.  “I acquired male and female servants, and had servant born in my house.  Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me.  I also gathered for myself silver and gold and special treasures of kings and of the provinces.  I acquired male and female singers the delights of the sons of men and, musical instruments of all kings.” (Ecclesiastes 2:7-8)  Humanity has been shopping for fulfillment at this same mall since the beginning.  Our proverbial shopping carts are piled with the things we hope will pacify the nagging hunger in our hearts: extravagant homes and automobiles, elegant collections,expensive toys and tools, extensive land and livestock, excitingcontacts and connections, and everything else under the sun that we can afford.  With carts full of goods and hearts full of emptiness, Solomon decided this wasn’t the bargain for which he was looking.  He writes, “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase….”(Ecclesiastes 5:10).

The wise ruler then shifts his attention to justice.  If this physical world has nothing of tangible, lasting substance to offer its consumers, maybe there is a fulfillment and a soul-satisfaction to be found in the moral fairness of humanity.  Solomon looked to see the wrong being made right and the right being rewarded, and we are still looking for this same justice several thousand years down the road.  If we work hard enough at our job, we long to see justice measured out in the form of a promotion or a raise.  Having emptied our emotional resources onto others, we expect to receive the same in return.  When our older brother is given three presents for Christmas, we expect to find at least three gifts with our name attached.  We want the coach to give our son just as much playing time as his teammates.  It is only fair after all.

Solomon resonated with our intrinsic reasoning and set out to see if his heart could find a resting place in such a justice system, but it wasn’t there to be found.  “Moreover I saw under the sun: in the place of judgment, wickedness was there; and in the place of righteousness, iniquity was there.  I said in my heart, ‘God shall judge the righteous and the wicked (someday), for this is a time there for every purpose and for every work.’” (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17)

Having nearly exhausted his search, Solomon had one more stop to make.  Recognition. Maybe there is nothing of eternal value in either the tangible or intangible things of this world, but perhaps there is a satisfaction to be found in the way we are viewed, appreciated and esteemed by others; in being somebody of value and substance in other’s eyes.  After all, if anyone ever had a spitting chance at finding some form of self-gratification in being honored and admired by his peers, it was Solomon.  Yet, at the end of this street loomed the same brick wall that had greeted him at every turn thus far.  The Preacher writes that “there was no end of all the people over whom he was made king; yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him.  Surely this also is vanity and grasping for the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:16)

True story.  Of nearly 900 Nobel Prize winners since 1901, we are hard-pressed to produce more than one or two names of that list (if that many) from our memory.  In the realm of sports, the Super Bowl is the most televised event of the year in the United States, yet the majority of the world (including fans of the game) couldn’t tell you who won the big game just five years ago.  After surveying the church congregation that I pastor, not a single individual could share just two facts regarding Walmart’s founder and twenty-three time billionaire, Sam Walton.  In fact, none of the children even recognized his name.  So much for a lasting legacy!  Therefore, on par with everything else Solomon had witnessed, he rightfully concluded that popularity was also far too fleeting to hold out any substantial purpose in life.

Finally, he came to the frustrating realization that, of all the wonderful, beautiful things through which he had rummaged, nothing fit the bill for lasting satisfaction.  “…Indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.  There was no profit under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11)  He would come to discover that everything in this life has an expiration date attached to it.  Having had eternity placed in his heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11), Solomon was trying to find this eternal value in the things of earth, only to find that everything under the sun is part of a cycle and a season that has both a beginning and an end.[4]  Everything.

At the close of Solomon’s Ecclesiastical quest for eternal substance, he seems to land on two conclusions: enjoy thisWORLD for what it is, and live in this WORD for what it is.  When it comes to things “under the sun” we will only injure our emotions trying to dig some deeper meaning and lasting value out of them.  As the political and spiritual leader of God’s special people, Solomon’s advice for them (and for us) is to simply enjoy the things of this life for what they are: temporary, seasonal, non-eternal gifts from God (Ecclesiastes 2:24).[5]  However, when it comes to satiating our craving for lasting satisfaction, our only course of action is to abide in the Word so that we might come to possess a biblically accurate view of God[6] and be internally compelled to obey His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).  According to Solomon, this is the end all of humanity and its only recourse for an abundant life this side of eternity.

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[1] Godly wisdom allows man to see his place in the world; to understand, to a greater degree, the vast expanse between man’sdepravity and the Maker’s deity.   It’s this wisdom thatsafeguards our relationships, stewards our resources, steers our families, sanctions churches, and scares the enemy.

[2] Proverbs 17:22

[3] Budweiser, Molson, Heineken, Old Milwaukee, Bass Ale, Amstel

[4] Ecclesiastes 1:5-6; 3:1-8; 5:15-16

[5] Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:9

[6] It is only a biblically accurate view of God that causes us to fear (revere, respect, admire, believe, honor) Him the way we ought.

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