He also had the means to do practically anything he wanted to do. In his old age, Solomon found time to reflect on his lifelong experiences. And he passed his thoughts down in writing. He starts off by enumerating that everything in life is meaningless. He mentioned, “I know, because I have seen it all. You name it, I’ve done it. I not only did it, but I did it in a big time, kingly fashion. I denied myself nothing, nothing at all. But looking back on it now, I can tell you none of it amounted to a hill of beans.”
He questioned, “What do you think is worthwhile in life? Is it the pursuit of pleasure? I had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines. I had music from men and women singers; all the wine I could drink; and a place full of to get in my good graces.”
He mentioned, “Sure, it is enjoyable up to a point. But when you get everything you want whenever you want it, you quickly discover how meaningless pleasure really is. Here is what I’ve learned: Whenever you seek pleasure, pleasure eludes you. The only way you may find pleasure is by seeking something else first. It could be nothing more than paying someone a hand with a unpleasant task.”
“The idea is that when you least expect it, happiness suddenly bubbles up like a well inside of you. You don’t find pleasure; pleasure finds you. Pursuing pleasure is like chasing after the wind.”
“If not pleasure, then what do you wish for? Is it wealth? Do you think you should dedicate your life to the pursuit of wealth? I had hundreds of houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, fruit tress, reservoirs watering groves of trees, slaves, more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem, horses and chariots, and more silver and gold than anyone can imagine. I had all. But if money and things could buy happiness, then, I would have been the most happy man that ever lived. But I am not happy at all in those terms.”
“But what did I discover? Just this: Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. A rich man doesn’t even sleep well at night. He’s too worried about this money. Money has its uses, but don’t lose perspective. We were born naked, and when we die, we’re going to take with us just what we brought into this world. Whatever we acquire will be left to someone who had not worked for it.”
“If neither pleasure nor wealth are worthwhile pursuits, how about the scholarly pursuits of knowledge give pleasure of life? Oh yes, I spent a great deal of time in study. I learned everything I could about every subject under the sun. That’s how I got my reputation for wisdom. It didn’t fall out of a tree, you know. What did I find out? Only this: The more you learn, the more you discover there is to know. Even the brightest of us are ignorant of many things. Certainly, wisdom is better than foolishness, but please remember, in a few years, both the wise man and the fool wind up in the grave. Before long both are forgotten.”
So, pleasure, wealth, and knowledge all have limited value. What’s left? Would you enjoy in work? “Yes, I worked. I built houses, planted vineyards, gardens, parks, fruit trees, and groves of trees. I delighted in my work. That was my reward. But it remains till I am able to work. The day this body gets weak as warranted by nature, the work would appear to be tiring and I would not be feeling happy again. Moreover, the achievements of our hard labor would be giving merely a temporary ‘feel-good-about-it’ sort of thing. In the long run, all of our toil is useless. Whatever you make, you can’t take with you. And in due course, whatever we create will be torn down or destroyed and soon forgotten. However, I do not say that we should not work. We must continue to work on something as it is required for proper functioning of our body-machine.”
So, the wise man threw a wet blanket over most of the things people devote themselves to today. Then what should we do? How should we spend our time on earth? The answer is simple: “A man can do nothing better than to eat, drink and find satisfaction in work. Enjoy life with the one you love. Be happy and do well as long as you live. Whatever you do, do it with all the might because you never know when life might end.
“While we are young, enjoy life as much as possible. But don’t forget, God will judge everything we do. The years slip by quickly. Infants turn into youths, youths into adults, adults into middle age, and middle age into old age. It doesn’t take long at all as the time passing does not remind you every time that you are getting old and older and one day, you will pass away. All too soon, the troubles and afflictions of age sap the strength and weaken the mind. Then death calls your number and body returns to the ground from where it came, and soul returns to God who gave it.”
Solomon concludes his advice with this warning: “God will bring every deed into judgment including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked.” If you really wish to have pleasure of life, you must do good for yourself and for those people who are around you, without making them aware that you are doing something good for them – you may not disclose your identity. When they get to know themselves that you did a good job for them without any consideration, their thankfulness will give you heavenly pleasure of life.
Has Solomon’s 3,000-years old advice stood the test of time? Some things have changed. Primarily, we have more gadgets these days than they had back in his time. But our basic choices remain the same. We can dedicate our lives to pleasure, or work. Then again when we reflect on the brevity of life, the certainty of death, and the promise of judgment, we might decide Solomon knew what he was talking about.
But what do you feel about God judging the good and wicked? The moral law certainly implies that God cares about us, what we do with our lives, and the choices we make. Also our longing for justice, often frustrated in this life, leads us to believe, we will get whatever we are due in the world to come. Our sojourn can best be described as a sort of boot camp or school of hard knocks.
We are here to learn. Learn what? Learn that pleasure, money; possessions, knowledge, and work all have only limited value. None of these pursuits should be the focal point of our lives.
Our primary task is to develop character, that is, a certain type of character. Earth, we discover, is nothing more than a large training centre for character. Those who graduate have learned their lessons on: fair play, unselfishness, humility, courage,
faithfulness, honesty, truthfulness, and treating others with respect. They enjoy real happiness once they exercise the qualities they learn to practice.
Be happy – lead your life virtuously and identify its worth with good deeds always.