Editor's note: this piece was coauthored by Hagelin's daughter, Kristin Carey.
Where are you looking for your fulfillment? To simple pleasures? To hard work and success? To beauty and art or justice and honor?
According to scripture, King Solomon was the richest and wisest man on Earth (2 Chronicles 1:11). He had virtually unlimited resources and tremendous power. And he devoted his life to seeking satisfaction. He pursued every good and pleasurable thing to a greater degree than you or I could ever dream of.
If anyone could provide any insight as to how to find fulfillment in life, Solomon is the one.
In his last years Solomon wrote what is now known as the book of Ecclesiastes. In it he records what he discovered through his lifelong hunt so that we might benefit from it. At first reading you get the impression that Solomon had a bleak outlook on life, but when you dig deeper you find that his writing, though brutally honest, is indeed hopeful. He shares both common sense and profound wisdom with remarkable clarity. He began:
“I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven….I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:13-14).
The first place Solomon looked and failed to find satisfaction was in pleasure. He wrote:
“I said to myself, ‘Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.’ But I found that this, too, was meaningless. After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world. I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and planting beautiful vineyards…. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-4).
Solomon took a myriad wives and many other women whom he looked to for physical pleasure. He had nice things and threw wild parties. He also tried to find satisfaction through higher things like hard work and gaining wisdom. But he didn’t find it there, either. He continued:
“The wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten. I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19).
Solomon kept looking and kept coming up short. He even tried to find satisfaction through justice and politics. He wrote:
“I also noticed that under the sun there is evil in the courtroom. Yes, even the courts of law are corrupt!” (Ecclesiastes 3:16). He also said:
“It is better to be a poor but wise youth than an old and foolish king who refuses all advice. Such a youth could rise from poverty and succeed. He might even become king… But then everyone rushes to the side of yet another youth who replaces him…So it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16).
Every single thing Solomon did left him feeling frustrated. So he went on to try bigger and better things until he finally realized that nothing under the sun would satisfy.
The Hope: Fear of God
In a sermon series called The Good Life at Midtown Fellowship in Columbia, South Carolina, Pastor Jon Ludovina said, “Maybe you’ve become some of who you thought you needed to become, but is it not true that you still have a version of who you need to become ten years from now? Isn’t that strange? Maybe you’ve got all of it. Maybe right now you’re exactly who you wanted to be ten years ago. And still, you’re not everlastingly content or satisfied. You still have a new version of who you need to be ten years from now. This thing never works, this thing we keep chasing here under the sun. And Solomon’s going, ‘listen, I played the “ten years from now” game! I reinvented myself over and over and over again and none of it was enough.’”
Ultimately, Solomon came to the same conclusion that though it is “good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun…and to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19), lasting satisfaction can only be found by looking beyond the sun, by looking beyond worldly things to the eternal, namely, God.
“Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Fearing and obeying may not be the most appealing, but as Chet Phillips pointed out in the final sermon in The Good Life series at Midtown Fellowship, the beauty of fearing and obeying is that it means we come to view ourselves in light of who God is and learn how to operate as created beings underneath a creator. In our culture, we’re OK with God in general, but once he has a face and a name, and once he starts trying to direct our lives, we reject him because then he isn’t safe.
Phillips went on to say, “Jesus is good. And in the gospel and on the cross he shows us that he is for our good, but he is not safe. He’s not safe for the dark places in our soul, for the areas that we are broken, towards our rebellion and our sin.“
We have the option to pursue good, happy, safe lives for ourselves here on Earth. But if Solomon is right, then we will only find our best, most meaningful lives and lasting satisfaction by yielding to the God who brought us into being.