From the second lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living
Some of you have heard a little bit of my testimony... I studied philosophy for many years, graduated with a degree, and put in three years of graduate studies in philosophy and, it’s true, with much knowledge comes much grief. Not just around exam time but you know, just read modern philosophers. Read the existentialists and others who examine with a critical eye this natural world and they come to the conclusion that the only rational choice and free choice, ultimately, is suicide. With much knowledge, there is much despair.
It is very reminiscent of a couple of Greek metaphorical images that the existentialists enjoyed using. One is the myth of Sysethis. This fellow--who did something that aggravated the gods--was sentenced to push a boulder up to the top of the hill, and if he could ever get it to the top, then he would be liberated from this imprisonment. And so, struggle as he might, he would labor and toil to push this huge boulder up the hill, and just about the time that he would get to the top, invariably, somehow it would slip and roll down to the bottom again. And he would begin the journey all over again.
Or how about Tantalus? Narcissus is the one who looked into the water and fell in love with the reflection of himself. But Tantalus, from which we get the word tantalize, was also punished the same way except that his punishment was to stand in a pool of pure, clean water. And dangling from a branch was the most luscious cluster of grapes that you’ve ever seen. And he was desperately thirsty and hungry and every time he would reach for the cluster of grapes, the tree would recede from him and he couldn’t quite get to them. And every time that he would bend over for a drink of water, the water would subside and he could never quite get a drink. That’s the way it is with philosophy. We’re always striving and searching to lay hold of the juicy fruit of the meaning of life and yet it is always just beyond reach. And as we might, Hegel comes along and struggles with this boulder and pushes it up to the hill and then Kant, his successor, pushes in the side and the stone falls down because he says, you’re not doing it right. Then Kant tries to push it up the hill. And the next philosopher comes along and it is just endless, endless.
Who should know better than Solomon, the wisest of all men? It is emptiness, even wisdom of this world, all empty. Or to use the expression that the Rolling Stones made famous in their song, Solomon can’t get no satisfaction. Try as he might. Nothing is truly satisfying. It’s a brutal conclusion. All is vanity. Very brutal. Christians don’t like to hear it. Some of you were disturbed after our last study. You left depressed. Good. You need to be depressed about the state of this world. If you are caught in the maze of illusion thinking that this world is going to give you meaning and value and substance. You need to realize that in a real sense, we are caught up in a web of deception, and we come to the end of our life and we look back, we’ll come to the conclusion that it was vanity - unless we learn what it means to operate not under the sun, but as one rabbi said, above the sun. Or, as we might say today, from our perspective, in the Son. Then there is meaning and then there is value.
Let's continue with the wisdom of this sage. Look with me, please, at Chapter 2. He is going to go through a whole list of things that he has experimented with, looking for meaning, looking for purpose and for value. He begins by talking about pleasure and mirth: “I thought in my heart, come, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good. But that also proved to be meaningless. And mirth or laughter, I said, is foolish. What does pleasure accomplish?" If you want to know the extent to which Solomon sought after pleasure and entertainment, read 1 Kings 4:22-23, where it is told of the amount of food that was consumed daily in his courts. Enough to feed anywhere from 5 to 30,000 people every day. There was a continual celebration. Feasting of the greatest magnitude. Hundreds of oxen and sheep. In fact--if you want to know the state of affairs under Solomon’s reign, look at this scripture--1 Kings 4:20: “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sands on the seashore. They ate and drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the river to the land of Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt.” The people here are numerous and increasing because it is a reign of peace as God prophesied it would. And they are eating and drinking, making mirth, making merriment and having a grand time. But Solomon, who is the chief jester for it all says, hey, this did not really give me joy or satisfaction. This, too, is meaningless.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.