What’s With All the “Stuff”?

Published March 1, 2016 by

What’s With All the “Stuff”?
Reflections From The Preacher on God’s World

by Aaron O’Harra

I get it! Ecclesiastes doesn’t make much sense. As fascinating as you might find it because of its colorful language, poetic landscape, and insightful proverbs, the fascination still doesn’t outweigh the confusion. “Where is this book taking me? Why does it seem all over the place?”

Apart from the unique style of Wisdom Literature, Ecclesiastes seems to mirror the very chaos and contradictions contained in life itself. But despite the difficulty in walking through the terrain of The Preacher, one thing is apparent: The Preacher wants us to recognize within ourselves what we already seem to know—we are hungry, and we ache to be satisfied.

We Possess a Soul Hunger
One of the great advantages of Ecclesiastes is that we are afforded the opportunity to hear the musings of one who has experienced everything there is to experience. Some of you reading this, are in the final chapters of your life and the allure to taste the best and brightest pleasures of the world may not be as immediate as, say, a 20 or 30 year-old. But there are also those of you who are on the front end of your life, and the world is your oyster. The future is a city layered in gold, and you can’t wait to experience it all. You may even have it all planned out:

“I’m going to get my degree, land a nice job, find a beautiful wife, a tall, dark, and handsome husband. I’m going raise one boy and one girl, watch Netflix in the evenings, go out to eat on the weekends, and travel in the summers.”

And of course, none of these things in themselves are bad. In fact Ecclesiastes affirms the goodness of these things, as he does with all of God’s creation. But where he warns us is in our propensity to make these good things the final thing. If that’s you, then listen to The Preacher who has already lived that life for you and assessed all of it as “vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Eccl. 2:11).”

The Preacher will later say that God has put eternity into man’s heart (Eccl. 3:11). He knows, from experience, the “vanity” in trying to fill our soul hunger with finite, created things, when it was really made to feast on the eternal things—namely on God himself. C.S. Lewis popularly said, “If I find in myself a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical conclusion is that I was made for another world.”

We have a soul hunger that cannot be satisfied by food, drink, sex, art, leisure, books, spouses, travel, children, or family. The Preacher reminds us that as creatures made in the image of God, we were made to be satisfied in God alone.

The world screams of this. It’s in our movies. It’s in our art. It’s in our literature. It’s in our songs. John Mayer on his sophomore album wrote a song called “Something’s Missing”:

“I’m dizzy from the shopping malls/I searched for joy, but I bought it all/It doesn’t help the hunger pains/and a thirst I’d have to drown first to ever satiate./Something’s missing/And I don’t know how to fix it/something’s missing/And I don’t know what it is at all//How come everything I think I need, always comes with batteries/What do you think it means?”

The Goodness of God’s World
So if we have a soul hunger, and it cannot be satisfied with all the “stuff”, how should we approach the stuff? Can we find pleasure in God’s world? The Preacher says in Ecclesiastes 7:29, “See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” Ecclesiastes continually reminds us that the created things (food, drink, sex) are not the problem. We are the problem! We have sought out many devices, not the Budweiser.

The Preacher, upon his reflections, will tell us that these things are gifts from God and that we were indeed created to enjoy them.*

Ecclesiastes. 2:24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

So you can see that the alternative to finding pleasure ultimately in God is not to rid ourselves of pleasure in the created things. That just creates another type of vice, feeding an already plagued ego with self-righteousness or despair. But rather we are to enjoy our food and drink, our work and toil, with the recognition that they are a gift from the supreme Giver. The enjoyment becomes an act of worship.

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God

The interesting thing is, “apart from God”, we really cannot enjoy them to the fullest anyway. If we put secondary things (things created) in the primary place (the creator), we consequently lose the enjoyment of it altogether. An alcoholic is unable to sit down and enjoy a beer. Yes he will drink. And he will drink it with a strong desire for it. But he will drink it not as one who finds all the color in it. He will drink it as one who is a slave to it. Why? Because he has placed his drink in the seat of supremacy. The drink that he once enjoyed has become his own master, and his own misery.

Eyes to the Sunrise
The real wisdom of Ecclesiastes is that it pushes us to ask, “Where then can I be filled then? If not in the pleasures of this world, than where?” Ecclesiastes points us to Jesus as our satisfaction.

“Where is Jesus in Ecclesiastes?” you might ask. I could make it simple by saying Jesus uses the language of Ecclesiastes, which he does (John 3:8), or that he gives parables that reflect Ecclesiastes, which he also does (Luke 12:16-21), but the remarkable thing about the New Testament is that the writers saw Jesus as the embodiment of God’s wisdom.

“to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2b-3).”

So when we take our pilgrimage with The Preacher through the unsatisfying nature of “stuff” to fill our soul hunger, we remember that Jesus left the comfort of his own home, to inhabit this world “under the sun”, with the “stuff”, and to empty himself on a cross and become nothing that we might become the fullness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21; Ephesians 3:19). Ecclesiastes gives us the problem of hunger, but Jesus solves them by satisfying us. In light of this reality, the world, with all its stuff, becomes brighter than it was before. The stuff is no longer a master, but a means of seeing God. G.K. Chesterton once said, “We don’t drink in order to be happy. We drink because we are happy.”

When we delight in God’s world, we do not delight in any of it without him. Rather we delight in his world as a foretaste of the real thing that’s coming. The “stuff” becomes sign-posts, or pointers. It’s like C.S. Lewis once said about his experience of joy, which I believe is equally applicable too pleasures. “But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, “Look!” The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold. “We would be at Jerusalem.”


 
*Cf. also Genesis 2:15-17
*A much more thorough treatment to the enjoyment of God’s Creation can be found in Joe Rigney’s book “The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts” Crossway Wheaton, IL 2015

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