King David, a man after God’s own heart, ran into trouble as he passed through his late 30’s and early 40’s. He gave in to the midlife temptation to step out of the fight. Unfortunately, his son Solomon also had his own set of problems, but his main temptation was pleasure.
Imagine being the wisest, most popular, richest man in the entire known world. Solomon was set up with the unprecedented ability to have everything that his heart desired. Literally everything. If he could dream it up, he could buy it. He sent traders to the most distant lands to bring back the most exotic of everything. He collected horses, chariots, gold, silver. He even collected women as if he were trying to collect the whole set! What do you buy the man who has everything? More of everything! He had it all.
Vacations, Stuff, and Satisfaction
What does Solomon have to do with me and my midlife transition? Well, you and I spend our whole lives chasing, gathering, and accumulating stuff. We are always making improvements and upgrading, in hopes that it will make us happy. I have noticed that now that I am in my thirties I can more readily buy myself more of the things that I want. Back in college I could not buy myself much, because I didn’t have any money. But now, if I want the new pair of shoes I can just buy them. The dollar amount is not crucial, here. For some people, it is a $40,000 truck. For others, a $400 camera. For others, it is a $4 latte. My point is that at this stage in our life we are able to see something we want, and buy it. I am not a shop-a-holic by any means, but I think that I am on to something here. Other people pursue pleasure through experiences and vacations. “Maybe a week at the beach is what I need. Maybe that will make me feel better.” Other people pursue eating, drinking, and marital intimacy to fill the void. We push our spouse to give us what we (think we) need, or we end up going to the internet or elsewhere. We spend time and money trying to get pleasure from our various appetites, which bring a satisfaction for a while but always leave us hungry for more. We get addicted to food or Facebook or gambling or cigars or wine or shopping. What has changed? It is simple. We spent the first few decades of our lives limited in how much we could pursue these things, but now that we have more resources then the temptation to indulge gets even greater. We are miniature Solomons in our own little kingdoms.
In America we talk about Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. I think it was wise of Jefferson et al to add the ‘pursuit of’ in there, because it is the chase that keeps us on the treadmill. It reminds me of a dog chasing cars…he wouldn’t know what to do if he ever caught one. Well, Solomon actually caught Happiness, and you know what he found? It was meaningless. We all know how Solomon’s amazing potential ended – in the despair and cynicism of Ecclesiastes.
I think that the root issue here is Beauty. God put a deep desire for Beauty into our hearts, both the desire for A Beauty and also for beauty in general. At this point in my life I am suddenly able to have more of it around. So what am I supposed to do? Does God want us to abandon the search for beauty? No! As C.S. Lewis puts it:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – The Weight of Glory
It’s not that we should abandon our search for beauty. You see, Solomon was looking for the right thing, but he ended up looking in the wrong places. He began by building a beautiful temple for his beautiful God. But then he built an even more beautiful temple for his beautiful stuff and his beautiful wives. When he reached this crucial moment in his life he should have consciously turned back to focus on how he began. To excavate. To focus on God. Instead, he built his Tower of Babel. He pressed on harder and faster. He pursued beauty and pleasure and happiness through his high-dollar ‘mud-pies’ in the richest ‘slum’ on earth. It isn’t that Solomon was not supposed to have richest and beauty and excess – God actually gave those things to him. The problem was that Solomon looked to those things to give him validation and fulfillment. And they came up short. But there is good news: Solomon finally got it! I don’t know how old he was when he wrote Ecclesiastes, but he finally figured out what he should have done:
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.
It’s so simple, but even the wisest man on earth can be blinded by the sparkling beauty of this world.
What About Us?
Solomon conducted an experiment to see the effects of unlimited pleasure. The experiment proved once and for all that unlimited pleasure is meaningless. I don’t need to run the experiment again. I don’t want to do what Solomon did. I can’t allow my heart to go chasing after beauty and pleasure that is not the real thing. Instead, I must chase after God, who is the most beautiful being in existence. Only in Him will my possessions and relationships bring joy. Only in Him will the pursuit of happiness continue to give me that thrill. Only in my pursuit of Him will I feel true satisfaction in his True Beauty.
Let’s pursue Him this week, instead of those beautiful distractions.