Are you happy? Are you content? Are you secure, with no burdens and a clear conscience? Are you ahead in life? Have you ‘made it’?

No?

Well then, if you are not living this kind of life, do you personally know anyone who is?

It would be safe to assume once again that the answer is “no”, yet despite this, the lifestyle ideals we have described are not a foreign concept to any of us; in fact it’s everywhere! On billboards, bus stops, magazines, the radio, TV and internet.

There they all are, ecstatic people living out the ideal lifestyle with their new car, three storey house, mobile phone or new pair of shoes.

These images are everywhere, emblazoned at us from all directions via all media and the ‘gospel’ they are preaching is:

  • other people are living a better life than you

  • other people are having more fun than you

  • other people are achieving more in life than you are

  • you are missing out on something good

  • you are a victim!!

And who do we have to blame for the predicament in which we find ourselves?

The billboards and brochures are quick to point our attention to our sub-standard car, our sub-standard house, our sub-standard job, our sub-standard family.

Or perhaps we may add our own reasons to the equation:

  • the Truth is too restrictive

  • the people are not friendly enough.

  • we don’t get enough opportunity, enough influence; we’re being marginalised, discriminated against.

But despite the reasons we may advance, this fact remains, all of us struggle with discontentment, all of us feel at times that something is missing, that our lives lack meaning. This is exacerbated by the fact that we live in a modern world that offers us more options than any other generation that has ever lived, all with the promise that in some way unlimited information, entertainment and opportunities will make us happier.

Yet all of us would agree that the expectation has not led to reality. In fact most research indicates that the opposite is true, that discontentment, depression, suicide are higher than ever, especially in affluent countries. How then do we reconcile this problem—what is missing?

Let us fast forward for a minute to the top of the ‘ladder’. Let us imagine that we are the richest people in the world; that time, money and opportunity are no longer any barrier to us.

Do you think that we could find some magical combination of work, rest and play that would make us happy? Do you think our lives would be better or worse?

We are not the only ones to contemplate this question. Solomon did as well. The difference though, between him and us, is that he did not have to use his imagination. He was a multi-billionaire and as King he could do anything he wanted to do.

In Ecclesiastes 1:3 Solomon questions the meaning of life, and he puts it like this: “What is the profit to a man in all his labour which he labours under the sun?”

What lasting value has anything that a man applies himself to, because like us (v1), Solomon saw that everything seemed so futile.

So Solomon sets out to find the answer to this question using all the power and resources he has as king, reigning at a time when Israel was at its most prosperous.

1 Kings 10:14 “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold.”

That translates to approximately 866 tons, which in today’s terms is worth approximately 15 billion dollars. Every year, Solomon flooded Israel with so much gold that we are told that silver was devalued to the point where people counted it as nothing (v21).

So in Ecclesiastes, Solomon channels all this power and money to find the “meaning of life”. Education, knowledge, wisdom, madness, entertainment, laughter, wine.

Building houses, vineyards, gardens, pools, forests, orchards, irrigation.

Amassing flocks, herds, horses, chariots, slaves, musicians, gold, silver, concubines and wives.

Verses 9 and 10 tell us how seriously he took his experiment. Any whim of his heart he satisfied, anything his eyes coveted he obtained, until he became the greatest man in the then known world. Solomon hit the ‘top of the ladder’. There was no one above him and millions below him.

So what are the opportunities and promises of the brave new world we live in?

Education, entertainment, information, communication, lifestyle, careers, ‘buy now pay later’, low interest credit cards, work from home, Internet, EBay, email, text messaging, instant messaging, remote courses, on-line trading….

This is the ‘gospel’ of the modern age. These are the opportunities presented to us by the communication revolution, the advances in technology that have flooded us with more options than we can handle.

All this is heavily marketed with the promise that our lives will be greatly improved; that the advances in communication will make our relationships more meaningful; that the opportunities to work, trade and auction from home will mean time better spent with our families; having unlimited access to information will help us see things from God’s perspective.

Well, in verse 11 Solomon, having concluded his experiment, takes a few steps back and considers everything that he has done in his quest for the “meaning of life”… he had done all these things… he had started them and finished them… and his conclusions?

It was all vanity, futility, chasing the wind! He still felt dissatisfied, discontent. He still felt that life lacked meaning. He was no closer to discovering the answer to it all than he was when he first started.

As it dawns on him that everything he has done was a completely futile exercise, Solomon sinks into depression, where in verse 20 he hates his life and everything he had achieved, because despite all he had done, like us in our modern world, the ‘expectation’ did not lead to ‘reality’. The sense of futility that all of us feel could not be escaped through money and materialism.

Taking into account what we have learnt from Solomon’s experiment, we could safely say that none of the world’s offerings would make much difference in the overall scheme of things. In fact, they will only lead us further towards disillusionment and depression.

Let us then put our lifestyle, our modern age to the test. Most of us would have more information, technology and entertainment at our finger tips than our grandparents could ever dream of.

  • Are we then happier and more content?

  • Are we better than our fathers?

  • Are our prayers, reading and meditation packed with more meaning and perspective?

  • Are our families closer? our ecclesias better attended? our marriages stronger?

From a global perspective, has the communication revolution reduced the amount of pain and suffering in the world? Has the dawn of the information age brought with it less war, oppression, poverty and depression?

To all of those questions I think we all know that the answer is “No”.

Before we look at Solomon’s conclusion, the apostle Paul gives us God’s perspective on the futility we all feel.

Romans 8:20 “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope…”

Paul tells us very clearly that as a consequence of man’s transgression, God made us to feel these things intentionally.

Verse 21 “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

Everyone wants freedom, everyone wants liberty, everyone is fighting the futility of life and looking for solutions in a thousand different directions. The big winners are advertising companies, who fuel these desires to the chaotic level we see in today’s multimedia. But if Paul is to be believed, nothing we can buy, build, borrow or possess will rescue us from this sense of futility. God intends us, rather, to channel our frustrations towards hoping and longing for the Kingdom.

Consider these quotations from the mouths of the rich and famous:

  • “I joyfully hasten to meet death… for will it not deliver me from endless suffering?”Beethoven

  • “I have had no real gratification or enjoyment of any sort more than my neighbour on the next block who is worth only half a million.”William Vanderbuilt—Railway Tycoon worth over $200 million in 1885

  • “I’m bored with it all.” Winston Churchill—last words.

There are literally hundreds of other futile lives we could look at, people who followed Solomon’s cycle and got exactly the same results.

Asaph in Psalm 73 suffered from the same problem. After taking countless mental ‘snap shots’ of wicked people with arrogant smiles, wicked people oppressing the poor with impunity, wicked people enforcing their will, he concludes that these people must be living a better life then he, therefore living a righteous life was simply not worth the effort.

It was not until he elevated his mind into the sanctuary that he realised that he had been deceived by his own perceptions. From the vantage point of the sanctuary he could see the sum total of the lives of the wicked. Instead of bold, arrogant successful sinners, he saw scared, unstable, insecure men.

Coming back to Solomon, let us now consider his conclusion and solution to the vanity of life and let us examine our own priorities in this light.

Solomon’s remedy Ecclesiastes 2:24 “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.”

We do not have to be kings to live like this. In essence, Solomon is confirming that the simple things in life are the best. Solomon repeats this formula over five times throughout his book.

So if what Solomon is saying is correct, it is better to:

  • work for less money in exchange for more time with our families and ecclesias

  • drive a cheaper car and eat well, than an expensive car and live off baked beans and toast

  • use our savings to promote the work of the Truth rather than fill our houses with gadgets and things that distract us

  • start off married life in a flat than be crippled by debt in a so-called ‘dream home’ So when we look out there in the world:

  • do we see people who are enslaved or do we see people who are liberated?

  • do we believe that we of all people on the earth have the potential for the best life now? or are we of all men most miserable because we are missing out on so much?

  • are we more than conquerors or are we victims?

Only we can answer that question, but regardless of how we fluctuate let us constantly remind ourselves of this fact.

Time and technology have made no difference to our over-all sense of well-being. The great expectations preached by the modern world have never been realised by anyone, because it is preaching a ‘gospel’ contrary to the way God has created us. What’s more, Solomon, Paul, personal experience, along with countless articles and research all tell us that the disciples of this world, more often than not, end up with the opposite to what they have been promised:

  • more communication has led to more isolation

  • more entertainment has led to dissatisfaction and boredom

  • more choice has led to confusion and uncertainty

  • more materialism has bred more anxiety and insecurity

  • the pursuit of false promises to find happiness has led to depression and disillusionment.

The problem human nature presents us with is that, even though we may consent to all of this, it still does not stop us from coveting, desiring, and deceiving ourselves into thinking that there really is a life to be had in the world. We therefore need to change our lifestyles so that we are constantly reminded of these realities.

As the world accelerates towards the last days we all need to think very seriously about how cluttered our lives have become. Now more than ever we need to make our homes a sanctuary, a haven, a place to remind ourselves of the true meaning of life when we feel our attention being drawn away.

We need to keep technological distractions to a bare minimum.

Computers, mobile devices, the internet, TV can and will cause us to lose this perspective. They need to be tightly controlled or removed from our homes.

Futility and vanity are our lot in this life. Until our bodies are made immortal, we need to channel this frustrated energy into building our vision and preparing for that day.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, freedom in Christ, more than conquerors, favour with God and man—this is the Bible’s promise to us right now, with the added guarantee of life everlasting. From this vantage point we can laugh at the world and all its empty promises. But like the world’s advertising, this perspective needs to be constantly cultivated in order to be fully appreciated. But unlike the world, God delivers on all the promises He makes beyond what we are able to “ask or think”.

In the light of all we have considered on this modern world, let Paul demonstrate that there is nothing new under the sun by summarising and concluding this article for us.

1 Timothy 6:6–12 “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”