On Hedonism and Nihilism – Ecclesiastes 2

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today we will continue our study on the many follies of wisdom, from the words of King Solomon. In this chapter, Solomon details the hedonist and nihilist worldviews centuries (nay, millennia) before they were properly formulated. And, as with the previous chapter, he finds it all foolish.

Reading: Ecclesiastes 2

I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.

This is the hedonist position on life. “I will do what makes me happy, and then I will be happy,” they say. But, sadly for them, this position is no better than any other.

I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?

What value is there in happiness? True, when you are happy you are not unhappy, and there is some intrinsic value to that. But, at the end of the day, the happiness goes away.

I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.

I like to drink. There are times when I find pleasure in drinking. But I know better than to assume drinking makes me happy, because if I drink when I am not already happy I do not magically become happy.

Many engage in follies of all sorts. There are some who seek out funny videos, some who drink to excess every night, some who take hard drugs, and some who play video games all day. These things can have their places in life. But it is extremely dangerous to take any of these “vices” to excess, for eventually it becomes as normal and boring as regular life (which, itself, becomes unbearable).

I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:

I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:

I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:

I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:

I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.

As far as vices go, these seem tame on the surface. It is not bad to build great things, or to have a nice home, or to decorate. It is nice to listen to excellent music, and it is pleasant to sit in a nice garden.

But these things are not sufficient.

So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.

This is an interesting point of history. Solomon had a larger and more prosperous kingdom than any of his predecessors. He traded with the East and with Africa. His palaces and gardens were said to be a sight to behold. All this Solomon did in the pursuit of greater wisdom and happiness, but he found it all folly.

10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.

11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Looking back on all his great works, on all the parties and beautiful things he had, Solomon found no joy. It availed him nothing, in the end, though he had all things and didn’t hold anything back.

12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.

If there is nothing new under the sun, then no man can ever do what has never been done. True, the particulars may change, but at the root of it all is a common thread present since the dawn of man. So, Solomon sought to try everything, and pass on to his successors what did and did not work.

13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

It might seem self-explanatory, but it really isn’t. A wise man sees into the future, and so can make decisions that baffle the fool. With greater insight comes greater ability to create, lead, and prosper.

14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.

Yet, for all the wisdom in the world, every man deals with essentially the same problems. Every man must hunger; every man must thirst; every man must experience both happiness and sorrow.

And, no matter how learned or wise, all men must die.

15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.

This is the heart of Nihilism. If there is no ultimate purpose to wisdom, why acquire it? If there is no creation that will not be destroyed, why build?

The madman Nietzsche had only one answer to these questions: “Because he can, and because he chooses to.” Yet, this too is folly.

16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.

17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Truly, Solomon came to the ultimate conclusion that nothing he had done bore any lasting meaning. Sure, he might be remembered for a time, but eventually he would fade into darkness as all those who came before him.

(He was only spared this fate because his writings were preserved, lost, found, and passed down. But we do not know any longer what his physical works looked like, or even how far his kingdom stretched.)

18 Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.

19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.

Solomon was right to fear this, for his successors were largely fools who lost all the land and gold he had amassed. Solomon may have been a wise and good steward of all these things, but those who came after were less so, and ultimately all was lost.

20 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.

21 For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

22 For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?

23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.

The harder a man works, the harder his days of life will be. But the one who comes after will not have labored, yet will receive all these things. So why should I struggle, just so my children (or the Government and its wards) can take what I have amassed and squander it?

24 There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.

25 For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?

“Eat, Drink, and Be Merry! For tomorrow, we die.” It may be a comparatively recent slogan, but Solomon had come to this idea long before.

26 For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Even this idea that good things come to Godly people, and bad things come to bad people, is folly. For the evil man may yet enjoy his life, and the good man may struggle every day. Worse, still, the evil man’s money may never be put to any work that benefits a good man. The idea that prosperity is the domain of the good, and struggle the domain of the wicked, is foolish.

Let us Pray

Almighty Father, beyond all praising, we thank you that you are our God. Blessed be the name of the Lord, who is worthy of praise. And praises be to the King of Kings, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is one substance with the Father and by whom all things were made.

Lord, we find ourselves confused, because all those things we understand are ultimately foolishness in the eyes of the wise man. Those things that please us eventually become mundane. Those things that bring us joy, and the treasures we amass, ultimately are as dust to us. We are troubled, for this is what we do. Bring us peace and understanding, so that we may be troubled no more, and may praise Your Name on high.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son (our Lord Jesus Christ), and of the Holy Spirit, we beseech you. Give us all good gifts, in accordance with your will. Teach us to be good stewards, and bless our days.

Amen.

 

Go in the peace and power of Almighty God. Amen.

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