From doing these blog posts on Ecclesiastes, it’s already pretty stark how much this book doesn’t give us ideas and concepts like chocolate – sweet and gone in a second after being mulled over. Instead, every chapter is full of writings more like boiled sweets, you cannot rush over it or try to chew it for momentary pleasure. At first, certain things the Teacher of Ecclesiastes says seem utterly crazy, but that’s because these are boiled sweets; we need to labour over these ideas, considering them over and over in order to really get the Teacher’s meaning. Today’s blog post will be just like that.
Part three of this series is on what the Teacher of Ecclesiastes says about our life pursuits of pleasure in order to derive meaning in life, to feel content and full. You could call this ‘living for the weekend’, the care-free times of excitement, laughter and revelry. Maybe this looks like holidaying or partying. Of course, these things in and of themselves are not necessarily wrong. However, pleasure can easily become something we turn to in order to feel satisfied or escape life’s reality, and that’s where Ecclesiastes steps in.
So, here come some boiled sweets. Ecc 7:2 says this: ‘Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting…’ The Teacher then tops this by saying in verse 3: ‘Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better.’ What on earth can the Teacher mean? But let’s reflect on and consider what is being said here.
We need to remember that the Teacher is telling us to pursue wisdom, and so he is aiming to sober us. The thing is, the Teacher understands human beings in a profound way. He understands that humans pursue parties, chase holidays and yearn for care-free fun in order to feel alive. But the Teacher also knows something extremely insightful to this lifestyle. More often than not, we don’t find true wisdom that stabilizes our life in the high times of merriment, instead we find wisdom like gold through the hard and sorrowful times in life when we turn to God in them.
I can say this because I know this to be true personally. My two years at college were a real ‘high-time’ for me. There were no cares and a lot of laughter, I thought those feelings would carry me through into university. But they didn’t, and I realised how shallow in wisdom those years had been because I was not prepared spiritually for the years to follow. The merriment had rooted no depth to my walk with God nor profound knowledge of who He is. It was in the comparatively sorrowful years after that, when I turned to God on my knees, that my life slowly began to root itself deep. That’s where I began to find wisdom.
Notice how the Teacher makes a connection between these sobering times and the heart being ‘made better’. This also translates as the heart will be made more pleasing or glad. So here is the Teacher’s equation: pursuing pleasure to feel ‘awakened’ in fact commits the heart to deeper displeasure because wisdom is not ultimately found there. Instead, challenging and sobering times will eventually root the heart in wisdom and make it glad. This is a phenomenon only God’s hand could do.
Pleasures reflect God’s goodness, not a god in itself. Pleasures will not and cannot carry us through life’s hardship and trial, only God can do that. So we know that sorrow cannot disable us, but will rather arm us more confidently in wisdom when we give our cares to the Lord. He is our good shepherd who guides us into more profound knowledge that strengthens and builds.
Do you want to be wise? I know I do. We were made for a life of beautiful depth of which wisdom will always take us deeper into, so let’s pursue it.
Written by:Abigail Armstrong