By Keith Sharp
“We hold these troths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (The Declaration of Independence).
As young people approach maturity, they think more and more about goals in life. ;Childhood dreams of “What will I be when I grow up?” are replaced by immediate and pressing problems of choosing whether to go to college, trade school or a job, whether to train for one career or another, whether to get married and have a family or to put off such responsibilities. These decisions are both important and difficult, yet they are merely a portion of the greater question all, whether young or old, must answer: “What shall I make of my life?”
I am certain that every normal person would list happiness as a major goal in life. Yet, although all seem to exercise their “unalienable Right” of the “pursuit of Happiness,” relatively few seem to achieve that end. If happiness, both immediate and permanent, is our over-all objective, we need to identify a more concrete goal, a means, that will help us achieve that paramount end. How should one live in order to be happy?
Solomon, the great wise man of old, addressed himself to this problem in the book of Ecclesiastes. Are his observations of value to us? King Solomon “exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom” (1 Kings 10:23). He demonstrated that great practical wisdom by conducting experiments into the various ways a man can live in order to determine by personal observation the true road to happiness (cf. Eccl. 2:3). As the wealthiest man in the world, one whose immense treasures were too vast to accurately count (cf. 1 Kings 10:4-7, 14), he possessed the financial ability to undertake any such trial that he so desired. As a man inspired of God he could infallibly record the results of his great experiments. Thus, Solomon was uniquely qualified to speak authoritatively concerning the way to happiness.
Immediately some young skeptic is heard to sneer, “Solomon may have been smart, but what could he know about how to live today? Why, he’s been dead for almost 3.000 years!” Solomon himself dispensed with this objection by noting the unchangeableness of life (Eccl. 1:9-10). Certainly outward things change. Whereas, only a generation ago, many still used a horse as the fastest means of travel, today giant rockets have taken men to the moon, and people cross the oceans in jet airplanes in only a few hours. But man himself, his basic needs and desires, have not changed one iota since the days of Solomon, or even of Adam. The inspired observations are as apropos in our modern society as they were in ancient Israel.
Many think the road of human wisdom is the way of happiness. They want to garner as much as possible of worldly philosophy and culture, hoping in this way to achieve ultimate self-improvement and thence happiness. Solomon followed the pathway of human wisdom as far as man has ever traveled. Is this the road he would have us walk? First, we must realize that man, through human wisdom alone, is incapable of guiding himself either to God or to true happiness (Jer. 10:23; Isa. 55:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:19-21). All human philosophy will do for the man who makes it his guide is take him as a captive of war away from Christ, the Captain of our salvation (Col. 2:8-10).
Young people, it is a fine thing to get an education in order to help you succeed at some worthwhile career. But use education as a tool, not as an end itself. This world abounds with “educated fools” who imagine themselves to be wiser and better than others because of degrees attained in school. Is human wisdom the road to happiness? According to the great wise man, the more we learn of this kind of wisdom, the more we experience “grief” and “sorrow” (Eccl. 1:17-18). Certainly, human wisdom is not the way to happiness, and the attainment of great philosophical prowess should not be our primary aim in life.
Others think happiness can be found in the pursuit of worldly pleasures. Some give themselves over to a life of sinful abandon, living for the pleasure of the moment. More and more young people, even many who claim to be Christians, attempt to find happiness in such sinful pleasures as dancing, mixed swimming, pre-martial sex, etc. Is this the way to be happy? The sobering truth is, man, being a responsible creature, cannot escape the consequences of his own actions (Gal. 6:7-8). The people in this life who make both themselves and those who love them the most utterly miserable are those who have given their lives over to sinful pleasures. The ultimate consequences of such action is spiritual death (Rom. 6:23), eternal punishment (Rev. 21:8).
But many people today, while not giving their lives over to activities sinful in themselves, have made the pursuit of worldly pleasures their goal in life, thinking happiness can be thus achieved.
“Never in history have leisure and recreation attained the status they enjoy in the U.S. today . . . .
“Year after year, Americans are spending more tine and money on leisure activities than any other people . . . .
“. . . for more and more Americans, self-fulfillment means self. Indulgence and full-time pursuit of pleasure” (U.S. News & World Report, May 23, 1977, pp. 60-61).
How many, both young and old, are simply too busy with ball games, fishing, golfing, boating, hunting, and the relentless pursuit of pleasure in general to have time to simply worship the Lord in the assembly of the saints or to tell a neighbor the wonderful story of the saving power of the Gospel? Such people have, whether consciously or not, made the pursuit of worldly pleasures their goal in life and the means by which they expect to attain ultimate happiness.
This path also leads to despair.! It is the way of wasted opportunity and ability, uselessness and selfishness. It is the road of the short-sighted, who can see only the momentary pleasure and remain unprepared for eternity. It is a path of emptiness, providing no fulfillment of one’s higher spiritual needs and desires. It is, according to the wise man, the way of “vanity” (Eccl. 2:1-2), i.e., that which is empty and void of any good whatever and utterly useless.
There are those who think to find happiness in the road of drunkenness, escaping from reality through the liquor bottle, marijuana cigarette or heroin needle. But drunkenness, while promising happiness, only rewards its slaves by destroying their health, minds and morals (Prov. 23:29-35) and eventually their souls (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The one who “is deceived” by the lying promises of alcohol and other mind altering drugs “is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).
Many there are who make the attainment of earthly wealth and power their goal and means to achieve happiness. Should riches and power be one’s aim? Wealth is deceptive. It promises great security and happiness, but it does not have the power to deliver (Lk. 12:15-21). The love of money, while preventing one from ever being satisfied with the amount of material goods he possesses, will also cause one to lose his soul (1 Tim. 6:6-10). Thus, those who make the attainment of wealth and power their objective in life are fools (Lk. 12:20-21).
Solomon certainly knew this fact. He said that all his work for the amassing of wealth and power was “vanity and vexation of spirit,” because he would leave it to his heir, not knowing whether he would be wise or foolish (Ecc. 2:9-11, 18-19). Poor Solomon. His heir, Rehoboam, was an utter fool, who caused the kingdom to be divided and Solomon’s great wealth eventually to fall into the hands of heathen kings.
If all these roads of life lead to vanity, then what is left? Is there no road to true happiness? Solomon, having examined thoroughly all the pathways of life, advised:
“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” (Eccl. 12:1 ).
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
“For God shaft bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14).
Young person, while you still possess the strength of youth, before you are too old to enjoy life, due to the troubles, frailties and pains of advancing age, follow the path of true happiness, real joy and peace unutterable. Remember the God Who formed you and for Whose use you were placed here. Turn and serve Him.
This is the way to attain “joy unspeakable” and a reward of happiness that lightens the load of youth, eases the pain of age and is transformed into the immeasurable happiness of a home in Heaven (1 Pet. 1:3-9). Thus living to the glory of God gives you true purpose in life, for this is your very reason for being (Isa. 43:6-7).
What are we to conclude? How can one live in order to be happy? What should be one’s goal and path? Certainly it should not be human wisdom, worldly pleasure, drunkenness or wealth and power. All these are but “vanity” (Ecc. 1:2; 12:8). Which way then?
Truth Magazine XXI: 30, pp. 475-476
August 4, 1977