Filled Up with Every Earthly Pleasure, but Still Empty

Bible Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:12-18; 2:1-11, 17-26; 4; 5; 6:1-9; 7:13-14; 8:2-15; 9:13-18

Solomon experienced, in abundance, all the things that people think will bring them happiness and fulfillment: wealth, wisdom, fame, honor, success, security, power, possessions, pleasure, popularity, good looks, relationships, sons and daughters.... Trying to fill his life with every earthly pleasure he could imagine, Solomon wrote, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure" (2:10). With such a charmed life, he should have been the happiest man alive. Yet, after pursuing life with a passion, he ended up hating everything he thought he would love, including life itself (2:17-18). After fulfilling every earthly desire and dream, he concluded that "everything is meaningless" - "a chasing after the wind" (1:2, 14, 17; 2:1, 11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 5:10; 6:9). Every earthly pursuit left his soul empty.

On the opposite extreme, the apostle Paul is the one who should have hated life after everything he experienced: imprisonment, severe beatings, shipwreck, danger, destitution, poverty.... Yet, Paul wrote "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philip. 4:11-13).

Solomon pursued contentment through good times and found emptiness; Paul pursued God through a relationship with Jesus Christ and, despite bad times, found contentment. Both knew the truth that, regardless of man's own plans, "it is the Lord's purpose that prevails" (Pr. 19:21). Solomon found this truth frustrating because, though he was educated about God, he could never understand enough about the way God thinks and acts to be able to control his own destiny. Paul found it comforting, however, because he knew God well enough to know that he could trust him with his life and destiny, no matter what happened. Because Paul trusted that God was good, he calmly accepted that God's plans and purposes, though beyond our ability to comprehend, had to be good. Paul hadn't always known this contentment with God. His previous pursuit of God, through religion, had ended in obsession and murder (Acts 26:11).

God alone can satisfy our heart's deepest longings. If we pursue significance in anything but intimacy with the living God, we will find life "utterly meaningless" (1:2). We can avoid the futile end of earthly pursuits by following Solomon's own advice to submit to the Lord's prevailing purpose: "When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future" (7:14). Like Paul, we can find deep contentment for today and tomorrow if we will pursue a trusting relationship with God, who provides a calm inner strength to endure anything life delivers.