THE PROBLEM WITH PLEASURE
“Eat, Drink and be Merry, for tomorrow you may die” is not a new philosophy but it is certainly part of our culture and it has devastating results. The following are quotes of successful and famous people who tried pleasure but it led to self destruction. Notice how warped their thinking:
Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your altar. Please keep going Courtney, for Frances for her life will be so much happier without me. I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU., – Kurt Cobain, musician, d. April 8, 1994
And now, in keeping with Channel 40’s policy of always bringing you the latest in blood and guts, in living color, you’re about to see another first – an attempted suicide. Shot herself during broadcast. – Chris Chubbuck, newscaster, d. July 15, 1974
Dear World, I am leaving you because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool – good luck. – George Sanders, British actor, d. April 25, 1972
The future is just old age and illness and pain…. I must have peace and this is the only way. – James Whale, film director, d. May 29, 1957
Just this week, in England an up and coming rock star performed before a crowd of 180,000 people. Shortly after the concert, he climbed a 65 foot tower and jumped off. Apparently all the pleasures of a rock star were not enough. (http://tinyurl.com/3xm4qtz)
These are extreme examples and we can list more. I watched the Monetary Pop Festival the other night. It was recorded in 1967. This is the music of my youth. By 1970 several of the performers were dead from drug overdoses and other causes. Pleasure does not usually yield what we hope for. It is momentary and often leaves us more than empty.
Solomon tested himself with pleasure. He talked to himself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure, so enjoy yourself.” He began with laughter. He called in all the jesters and clowns and the comedians to come the palace and perform. It was live at the improv, it was Solomon’s house of laughs. And he laughed for laughter’s sake. Does that not sound like our society? People go to comedy night clubs and they watch the comedy channel on TV in order to laugh. They have special comedy hours on HBO and Showtime, too vulgar for regular TV. Some even want their pastors to be part time comedians. In some ways we are amusing ourselves to death. We laugh at anything even if it is not funny. In fact, most humor today is stupid and vulgar and inane. But, we laugh because we are supposed to, because if we don’t we will cry and howl and wail.
Solomon, said of laughter, it was madness. Laughter for laughter’s sake only hides the emptiness. And when the day ends, and the silence comes, all is vanity, it is chasing after the wind.
So, he turned to drugs. “I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely.” This was no drinking to get drunk, but how to use wine in a controlled way to heighten his senses, his taste, his thinking, and his creativity. He was not rolling in the gutters drunk. He was seeking to maximize his pleasures. And it was folly.
Next he tried building for himself magnificent buildings. His palace was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was rich and wonderful to behold. He built cities and retreats. He planted fine vineyards and created parks and planted fruit gardens. He made ponds to hold water to irrigate his forests.
He bought male and female slaves. He had more than anyone else. And all of those slaves were just to wait on him hand and foot, to meet his every need. He collected for himself, silver and gold and kings’ treasure. He had diamonds and rubies and every precious stones. His vaults were full of the things that people only dream of.
He surrounded himself with music. He had hundreds of singers, male and female. And he wrote songs and music and they would play them and sing to him. His palace was the center of culture and the arts. Can you imagine his lifestyle? His palace was furnished in the best, highlighted with silver and gold and jewels. He had servants to wait on him hand and foot. The smell of Jasmine and Gardenia and Orange Blossoms drifted from his gardens and the sounds of beautiful music filled the air. He sought to stimulate every sense. His life was a pursuit of sensuality.
Then he says that he had the pleasures of men, many concubines. We learn from other texts that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. And it says that these women turned his heart away from God. Yet, all the erotic pleasures left him empty and darkened his soul. He proved that often you don’t really want your desires, they never satisfy. In Solomon’s case, it brought on more darkness.
Solomon learned that riotous living did not bring pleasure, it brought pain and suffering and emptiness. All that sensual living did was to create a need for more sensual living, it never satisfied. What did he learn from all of this? “ Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.”
Solomon is saying to us, I tried it all and it is all empty, it is vanity, striving after wind. He drives us to the very edge so that we might see reality. This kind of living leads to destruction. It is only later in this book that Solomon tells us what really satisfies, that is walking humbly with God. What Solomon did was to take the things that God gave us for particular purposes, including our pleasure and made them the center of his life. But, that short circuits everything. If you make money or fun or achievements or sex the goal of your life, you will fail, you will be as cynical as Solomon, and life will be meaningless.
Philosophers and arts in the 20th century came to the same conclusion. The existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre came to the conclusion that life was absurd. Others, artists, playwrights and novelists followed. It produced the theater of the Absurd, meaningless novels and such. He decided that there was no meaning in life, no right, no wrong. In order to live an authentic life, you must decide for yourself the rules of right and wrong. It does not matter what you choose because it is all meaninglessness anyway. In the Post World War II period, this philosophy became the central theme of certain European nations and to this day, many live in the agony of this kind of nihilism: that you live, you suffer and you die.
We live in a fallen world. When we think we are wiser than God and try to strip away his influence, to remove his barriers, to ignore his rules, we will soon be living in this nasty despair. Pleasure will cease to be pleasure. Laughter becomes the means of covering our despair, sex becomes a momentary escape, and drugs and alcohol our only friend because it numbs the mind and hide the truth from our conscience.
If we were to leave it there, we all may go out into the darkness and never come back. But what Solomon describes for us is life lived in a total secular fashion, a complete scientific materialist’s point of view. It is the point of view of atheists that range from scientist Richard Dawkens to the journalist, Christopher Hitchens, All sorts of performers hold this kind of materialism, singers, songwriters and comedians. And their sophisticated philosophy comes out in folksy songs and funny but foul comedy routines. The difference is that Solomon was honest, he pulled back the curtain, removed the clutter so that we can see the hard, cold, terrible truth.
We cannot leave it there because there is one alternative. Solomon said that we find meaning in serving God. It is more than merely acknowledging God, it is the faith commitment we make to Christ. We learn that to be fully human is to be obedient to God. When we come to Christ, we enter into the full reality for which we were created. We were created to love and be loved by God.
God rescues us from this dark world. The only escape is Jesus. There are two realities, meaninglessness in a materialistic world or ultimate meaning and purpose in Christ. Which road are you own, who rules your life? If it is not Jesus, you are nothing.