I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. – Ecclesiastes 2:1
Ecclesiastes is an ancient book, yet its words are compellingly relevant. Although it was written around 3,000 years ago, you might think that the author had his finger on the pulse of our contemporary life. And indeed, as you read, you find yourself being walked down a number of dead-end streets representing the common paths we often tread in our search for satisfaction.
One route through which we try to find meaning in life is education. Experts constantly assert that the problems of substance abuse, sexual abuse and misconduct, and other societal ills can be solved if only people can be better educated. Yet experience shows us that mere information cannot in and of itself satisfy the needs of the heart, nor is it capable of taming the unruliness of the soul. Judged by many yardsticks, Western nations are the best-educated in human history, but they do not appear to be the happiest, and they may well be those that most thirst for instant gratification.
So if education doesn’t satisfy us, we might turn down the pathway of pleasure. We decide to let the good times roll. At first, we might find something resembling happiness—but we eventually discover that the pleasure it brings is only fleeting. It turns out to be a form of escapism, luring us into a make-believe, rose-colored, self-focused life that sounds great but is empty.
Much of the world that surrounds us is set up to call us down dead-end streets like these. Now, it would be a dreadful misunderstanding to think that Christianity is disinterested in education and pleasure. Nothing could be further from the truth! Yet the author of Ecclesiastes shows us that none of these pursuits will in and of themselves make sense of our lives or answer our deepest longings. Only when we come to know the true and living God does the enjoyment of life’s blessings feed into lasting joy.
These dead-end streets contain some hope, however—for Christ can break through and save us, drawing us onto the narrow path that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). Maybe that’s exactly what happened for you. Or perhaps you’re tempted to resist the warning of Ecclesiastes and go down one of these paths instead of the road of faithful obedience to the Lord—or you are tempted to implicitly or explicitly encourage your loved ones to go down them. If the temptation to see education or enjoyment as the one thing you must have calls your name, remember this: one day you will stand before the throne of God, and you will have to give an account. Which path will you walk along?
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