The writer of Ecclesiastes now turns to pleasure seeking as a possible answer to life’s quest for meaning.
1 I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.”——- 10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure (Eccles 2).
Is it possible for man to adopt a hedonistic pursuit to life and find satisfaction? Solomon found himself in a situation where there was little need for dependence on God. Secure on all fronts and with an abundance of possessions at his disposal, he resorted to pleasure seeking. It is no different for people living in affluence. The latest and the best are made readily available. Advertisements entice people to literally taste heaven only if you get hold of the latest version of the gadgets that are routinely used. Every desire that is conceivable is available. And man rushes along to get hold of what is offered on bait. But does he come away satisfied?
What does pleasure do? It provides a feast for the senses. The word ‘sensual’ denotes that which blatantly appeals to senses. A feast for the eyes, a delight for the taste, and so on. Be it the television that charms, the tasty delicacy that attracts, the images on the internet or the mindless chatter on the social networking sites that a person pours over for hours, most of man’s pursuits can usually be attributed to his desire for the sensual or that which gives him pleasure. Does pleasure thrill him? By all means yes! Does it satisfy him? No!
Solomon continues, ‘7 All man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied’ (Ecc 6). Is it not true that when you pursue pleasure as the ultimate goal, you are momentarily thrilled but come away empty and not long after, you desire more of the same thing. Just like drinking water to quench your thirst but instead, finding that no matter how much you drink, the thirst remains. What is worse, with each drink, you need more the next time to be thrilled, but long-term satisfaction still eludes. This becomes wearying to a person. Elsewhere in Ecclesiastes 1, ‘8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing’.
The problem is not with pleasure or sensual satisfaction as such but taking pleasure in isolation and making it supreme. The Bible does not label pleasure as evil, but the Bible does say that submission to God is supreme for man. Within a framework of submission to God, pleasure will necessarily have boundaries imposed on it. The Teacher advises, ‘9 Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment (Eccl 11). It follows that for a person who is conscious of God’s judgment and gladly submits to him, pleasure will become legitimate within the boundaries of submission to God. And within the context of submission to God, pleasure becomes not only meaningful, but surprisingly also more pleasurable!
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