The Tragedy of Discontentment

The tragedy of discontentment.

Eccl. 6:1-12

“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is prevalent among men—a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This vice is a severe affliction.”

 

            The capacity to gain wealth and the capacity to enjoy wealth are two different things.  We see this theme repeatedly manifested in our culture.  People who gain wealth never get to enjoy their prosperity.  As Solomon looks about him, he sees an often repeated reality.  Many people achieve wealth and success in life yet never gain satisfaction and joy. We see people who earn all that we think is necessary for life.  They obtain wealth and honor (vs. 2).  They are blessed with a large family, which in the Ancient Near East was regarded as one of the characteristics of success (vs 3).  They enjoy a long life, which is also considered a blessing from God (vs. 6).  They have every good thing that the world has to offer; however, in the end, they are still discontent with life and an angry man with no happiness and contentment.  For these individuals, the harder they work to obtain the wealth they think will bring joy, the more dissatisfied they become (vs. 7).  This leads us to the recognition that life is often short and futile, that our life is like a shadow that disappears at the end of days.

            In these verses, it seems Solomon is wallowing in the quagmire of despair.  If few cannot enjoy life, then what is the point?  Yet, in these words, Solomon points us to an important lesson that is vital in our quest for meaning, “In life, things are not always what they seem to be.”  We see famous people with extravagant lifestyles and quietly wish we had their wealth.  We watch videos of “social influencers” and think they have the perfect life.  But Solomon encourages us to look further and see beyond the fa├žade.  If we peel back the glitz and glamour, we discover they are not as they seem.  Look beyond the smiles in the camera, and we see unhappy people whose lives are filled with turmoil, insecurities, and unhappiness.  

            The problem with people is not what they possess but what they are missing.  The ability to enjoy life does not come by wealth, success, and long life; it comes by possessing what is genuinely meaningful.  What gives the ability to enjoy life is God himself and a relationship with Him.  In Philippians 4:11, Paul writes, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”  So what is Paul’s secret?  He gives the answer in verse 13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Paul had already pointed us to the answer in 3:8-9, “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”  Substance, meaning, and joy in life do not come from what the world has to offer but from what Christ has to offer, for Christ offers what is eternal and necessary.  When we find ourselves lacking genuine contentment, it is because we are seeking to obtain it from where it cannot be given.  Contentment and the ability to enjoy life is a gift from God and come through our relationship with Christ. 

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