As consumers we often find ourselves thinking about the next best thing, the things we simply have to have, or the things we must do. So why is satisfaction so fleeting once we get the things we've been waiting for?
We'll find out today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is teaching a message titled, The Search For Satisfaction. Verse 1. I thought in my heart, Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.
But that also proved to be meaningless. Laughter, I said, is foolish, and what does pleasure accomplish? I tried cheering myself with wine and embracing folly, my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. I undertook great projects. I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.
I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flops than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
In all of this, my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing, my eyes desired. I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Nothing was gained under the sun. Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom and also madness and folly.
What more can the king's successor do than what has already been done? I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness. But I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I thought in my heart, the fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise? I said in my heart, this too is meaningless. For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered.
In days to come, both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die. So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I'd toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.
And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it.
This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief.
Even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless. A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness. But to the sinner, he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless.
A chasing after the wind. Father, we thank you for your love and for your grace, not least of all that's found in the wisdom of your Word and in the way that it introduces us to Christ. We pray in the study of the Bible now that you will show us ourselves and show us our Savior in Christ and make the Book live to us. For we pray in his name.
Amen. If you have read ahead, as some of you will have done, you will perhaps have been struck by how compellingly relevant the words of this ancient book prove to be. That although this was written some three thousand years ago, when you read it, it would appear that the man had been reading Time magazine and Newsweek and US News and World Report, USA Today, and the New York Times, all in the past week, to be able to write as he did.
It, of course, speaks to us of the compelling wonder and wisdom of the inspiration of the Bible. We noted last time, and I remind us of this fact so that we would have a grasp of how the writer is coming at his material, that he's setting before the reader the emptiness of life. That is, a life that is lived without a practical faith in God. This is what he's saying. He's saying if you take practical faith in God and set it aside, if you seek to live life, go through all of your experiences of life, whatever they may be, ignoring, denying the existence of God and his claim upon your life, then you're going to find certain things to be true. And the way in which he illustrates this, at least in the early part of the book, is to walk down a number of dead-end streets. And as he comes to the end of these avenues, he says, I want you to consider the realities that are conveyed in what I'm writing, and I want at the same time simply to ask you, have you learned to cope with this? No one who is a thinking person is going to be able to deny what it is, he says. And therefore, if we're agreed that this is a circumstance of our human existence, then it is legitimate for the writer to ask, have you learned how to cope with this?
Or better still, do you have an answer for this? In the debate at the bar when staying in the south of England in that small hotel, the proprietor, whose name was Mark, proclaimed in the course of our conversation an interest in and a benefit that he received from the works of Stephen Hawking. Hawking, of course, from England, is one of the most brilliant cosmologists and astrophysicists not only of our age but really of any age at all.
His most famous book, which is found on the coffee tables of a great number of people who have never read it, is called A Brief History of Time. And in that, of course, he seeks to substantiate his thesis as it relates to the origins and significance of the universe. He is honest enough to recognize that his own arguments force him, in the end, to lament the ultimately unsatisfactory nature of science when it comes to answering ultimate questions. And so he writes, even if there is only one positive unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equation and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual scientific approach of constituting a mathematical model cannot answer the question of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
Good question. He says, we can construct the mathematical models, we can put the rules together, and within the framework of our astrophysical research, we're able to make certain extrapolations. But what we cannot answer is where the fire comes from that breathes life into this.
What we cannot answer is why does the universe bother to exist at all? Now, that's a very helpful quote, because it serves to simply substantiate the way in which the preacher here, the pundit, is making clear statements concerning the dead end of, in education or, if you like, intellectualism. And from verses 12 to 18 of chapter 1, we mentioned that last time, albeit briefly. Not that the writer nor we are seeking to debunk education. I know that many of you have never read this book, although your education is incomplete without it, but the book entitled How the Scots Invented the Modern World will tell you there, amongst many other wonderful truths, that the first nation in the Western world to establish elementary education for its citizens was Scotland. That is the very first place where a society said, children must go to school. So, it would be absolutely fatuous for anybody to say, well, the idea that down at the end of the road mark intellectualism or education, you will find a group of people saying, away with all of that stuff. You know, we are believers in God, therefore we neglect education. Not for a moment.
No. The Christian faith has always been at the forefront of education, and every parent wants the best of educations, both for themselves and also for their children. But what the writer is pointing out is simply this, that it is a serious mistake to think that intellectualism or education holds the answer to the quest for meaning. Now, of course, we're confronted with this all the time. It's constantly coming out, said, you know, we could deal with a drug problem if only people had more information. We could deal with a smoking problem if people were only better educated.
We could deal with premarital sex on the basis of education and so on. It's patently not the case. But it doesn't stop us from continuing to believe the mistaken notion that education holds the answer. It doesn't.
Where do you find gang rape? First of all, in the highest echelons of our military academies, where young men who are the brightest and the best who have been handpicked and educated and disciplined to the max are a glaring testimony to the fact that if education held the answer, then they would not be involved in these hysterical things. So Einstein says, I've discovered that the men who know the most are the most gloomy. Information to the mind cannot in and of itself satisfy the needs of the heart, nor is it capable of taming the unruliness of the soul. Well then, if the way of wisdom at the end of chapter 1 doesn't hold the answer, let's go down, he says, the path of pleasure. Let the good times roll. Let's see what happens down here. Let's see if this is actually the answer to the puzzle of life.
Hedonism. Verse 1, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good. Now, some of you this morning are a little embarrassed to be here, if we were honest. The reason you're embarrassed to be here is because you don't want any of your friends from your work environment finding out that you've been slipping into Parkside. The reason being that you've been saying for quite a considerable time that as far as you're concerned, Christian faith is the ultimate escapism. And you've been quite forceful about it, and so consequently, if the word gets out that you're actually here, opening the door even just a tiny bit to the possibility of the reality of faith, then of course, it's going to make it difficult when you get back to the office. But I want to encourage you in this way.
I want to ask you to think about the possibility that the real escapism is represented in a make-believe, rose-colored, self-focused life that leaves God completely out of the equation. Now, it's on this route that the preacher says, let's think about laughter for a minute. Laughter! Laughter is medicine for the soul, it says, somewhere, doesn't it? I like to laugh.
Don't you? Laughing's good. I saw Tracy Holman the other evening—you may know her, the English actress—and she was being interviewed on a biographical channel. And really, what it came down to at the end of the day is the man asked her a question about this and a question about that. She said, I love to laugh.
That soul is. I love to laugh. My husband makes me laugh, my kids make me laugh, everything makes me laugh. I say, that's good. I like to meet her. Just sit and laugh for a while.
It would be good. But look at what he says. Laughter is foolish. Laughter is foolish.
Well, what does that mean? What it means is simply this, that if everything's funny, nothing's funny. That if everything is worth laughing about, nothing's worth laughing about.
Think about it when you choose your entertainment. If you go to see a comedy and you go to see a tragedy, which one has the most lingering benefit to you? If you're honest, you must answer the tragedy. Because the comedy is light, it's fleeting, it's superficial.
There are a bunch of jokes, you can't remember the half of them. The tragedy, by contrast, is weighty, it's lingering, and it's capable of producing an emotional catharsis in you, such that may last not only through the remainder of the evening, but perhaps even for a lifetime. You may find yourself saying, I'll never forget when I saw Anthony in Cleopatra. I'll never forget that evening, walking out of this place after I saw Troilus and Cressida.
I'll never forget those things. But you've forgotten all of the others, the laughing ones. Billy Graham tells the story in a book that was written years ago of a disturbed patient who consulted a psychiatrist for help. The man was deeply depressed and nothing that the doctor tried to say to him was able to relieve him of the burden that he felt. And as the time ticked up to the hour and the psychiatrist realized he had nothing really to help the man with, he said to him almost as a last gasp, he said, by the way, he said, I know I haven't been a great deal of help to you, but I do want you to know that there is a terrific show in the local theater. And there is a comedian in there that has got everybody rolling in the aisles. And I think it would be excellent therapy for you if you just went in there, had a couple of hours, and just laughed for a while.
Forget your troubles. Why don't you go? Well, thank you, said the man as he stood up to leave. And then he turned back, and he said, I am that comedian.
Peter Sellars, the Pink Panther, his biography's called The Mask Behind the Mask. Try and find this funny man, and you'll discover that he knows that laughter is ultimately foolish. Let's go to a show. It's empty. Let's go to the bar. Isn't that what he says? So I tried to cheer myself with wine. Now, this isn't a comment on the merits or demerits of abstinence from alcohol. This isn't the writer despising those who drink wine as though to do so were ungodly.
It's not that. I mean, people may do that with this passage, but clearly that's not what he's saying. He's actually referring to an approach to wine, which is used in an endeavor to lift a man or a woman out of their sense of depressing emptiness. It's an attempt to use this mechanism in such a way to get whatever I can from it, if you like, to squeeze the juice out of it to my own benefit. But in actual fact, it ends up working as a kind of anesthetic depressant. And so off the man goes with his friends.
After all, he'd had the idea. Everything was coming at him, saying, you know, it's far better down the bar. That's what people tell me all the time. You know, you go to church, a bunch of boring people. You go down the bar, everybody's nice down the bar.
That's why I go down the bar. Mm-hmm. Well, fine. Now, thanks for sharing that. That's okay. Tell me more.
I love it down there. They play the piano, they sing the old songs. Sing me a song, I'm the piano man. You're the piano man. And he's sharing a drink that's called loneliness.
But it's better than drinking alone. No, you see, what he's referring to here—this is Jimmy Buffett. This is what he's referring to. This is wasting away in Margaritaville.
That's what he's doing here. Looking for his lost shaker of salt. I tried it down the laughter. I went to the comedy club, it left me empty.
I went down the bar, it did the exact same thing. He's talking about wine here, not as a good thing that has been granted to people in the living of their lives, but as a drug to mask the unsatisfied longing of his soul. Well, he said, let's just move on and try projects. Verse 4, I undertook great projects. Notice, I built houses for myself, and so on.
In other words, I just had a jolly good go at the whole business. I think what I'll try and do is add an extension. I think I'll extend my extension. I don't know what I'll do. I think I may build a new house. I think I may knock my house down and build another one on the same place. Whatever it is, I had tried these projects, and I built parks, and I planted vineyards, and I had all these wonderful fruit trees, and I had reservoirs to water the groves of the flourishing trees. This is a pretty nice setup, you've got to admit. I mean, this is not your average great homes of Ohio in here. I mean, this takes it up a couple of notches from the back of the Sugarin Valley Times or the Sun Valley newspaper or whatever the jolly thing is. But it did nothing.
His influence was insignificant. I bought male and female slaves, and I had other slaves who were born in my house. I've got it together now. I've got a number of people working for me. Yes, I have this group, and that group, and the next group, and so on.
Big deal. And stuff? Boy, do I have stuff. Versailles, silver, gold for myself, treasures of the kings and prophecies. Music, I've got all kinds of music.
Men singers, women singers, and I hear them as well. I've got all of the delights of the heart of man. I've become greater than anyone else in Jerusalem before me. He's given himself over to the wanton indulgence of his senses.
This is what people say. If only I could get there, that would be it, presumably. Verse 10, I denied myself nothing my eyes desired.
I refused my heart no pleasure. Nothing resisted that might be outwardly entertaining or that might be inwardly satisfying. There was some satisfaction in the activity, but as soon as the activity was over, as soon as the goal had been reached, it was just empty again. To whatever degree that we live our lives, you know, whatever it may be, anything from as small as moving from a three-wheeler to a two-wheeler bicycle, in the progression of life, to take it in its most trivial terms, as a child, you're going along in this little, trundling three-wheeler operation, and you see the people further down the journey of life on the two-wheelers. You say, On the two-wheeler must be where it is. And finally, you make the transition to the two-wheeler. And then when you're on the two-wheeler, pedaling like crazy, broom comes flying past. The scooter, the lombretta, you know. Oh, if only I had a scooter, you know, and so it goes on. There's no end to it.
There's no end to it. I haven't moved in these circles a great deal, but I've moved in them a little. I remember, I'm thinking of a man right now, you would know his name. I'm not going to tell you what his name is. We spent the day as a family at his home, vast home. And in the afternoon, he took me out into his gardens, and as we walked around, all of his trees, like in a botanical garden, were marked with signs with Latin names on them. He had ponds and groves and all manner of things, and we walked all around. And in the course of it all, he said to me, Do you believe in the resurrection?
I said, Yes, I do. None of what he had was satisfying to the great longings of his life. Tis Robert Burns, the poet, Pleasures are like poppies spread, You seize the flower, it's bloomish shed, And like a snow falls in the river, A moment white then melts forever, Or like the rainbow's lovely form, It vanishing amid the storm, Reaching out for it, and it's not there.
Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, was well respected amongst the intelligentsia of Edinburgh, but he was notorious as a womanizer and as a drunk. And if you go to the Gress Market in Edinburgh, you know that this plowman from Ayrshire who wrote these amazing verses had been down this avenue, and he knew that it was a dead end street. Eventually, you see, the Marie Antoinette syndrome takes over, and men and women are forced to acknowledge the fact that nothing tastes. If we live long enough, we begin to realize our search for satisfaction most often leaves us unsatisfied.
You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life, and we'll hear the conclusion of this message tomorrow. We're learning about the search for happiness in our study of the book of Ecclesiastes from Alistair Begg, and though the author of Ecclesiastes indulged in all the world had to offer, he still experienced a deep sense of emptiness. Many of us can relate to that. That's why we want to recommend a book titled Living Life Backward, a book that goes along with this study. Because we can easily become overly focused on the here and now, things in our daily lives can quickly consume us, can take on way too much importance.
Our homes, our cars, our bank accounts, these can all become diversions that we lavish our affections on and we hold on to too tightly. So how do we free ourselves from this? As you read the book Living Life Backward, you'll discover how death can teach us how to truly live. Request the book Living Life Backward, how Ecclesiastes teaches us to live in light of the end, when you give a donation. Visit us online at truthforlife.org slash donate. And if you'd rather mail your donation along with your request for the book, write to Truth for Life at P.O.
Box 398000, Cleveland, Ohio 44139. By the way, did you know you can listen to Truth for Life through your Amazon Alexa or your Google Home listening devices? Just ask Alexa or Google to play Truth for Life. It's a convenient way to listen to Alistair's teaching on your own schedule. I'm Bob Lapine, thanks for joining us today. In our study of Ecclesiastes, we're learning how the popular pursuits of education, work, pleasure, and materialism are ultimately dead-end streets. Join us tomorrow to find out where we can discover solid joy and lasting treasure. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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