The Hunger for Satisfaction and the Meaning of It All
The Search for Satisfaction
Childhood in the Evans’ household was, I recall, a frustrating business when it came to the issue of pop-music. You see, my Dad is a music lover. Unfortunately, my Dad is of the view that sometime in the middle of 1969 music died.
Consequently, watching Top of the Pops was a gruelling history lesson in the superiority of all things ’60s orientated. As Dad pined for the days when it was acceptable to wear purple flared trousers with an orange top, he would turn his attention to ‘modern’ pop-music. In doing so he would dismantle hit after hit with cutting observations, ‘that sounds like the guitar part from that Kinks’ song’, ‘that melody is stolen from that song by the Animals’, and ‘they’ve ripped that off from the Beatles’.
And the thing is; he was absolutely right.
The reason I know this is that I too have reached an age where I strive to frustrate all who are younger than me. In some ways my powers of frustration are amplified in the fact that I am moderately musically proficient (I play the guitar, well, sort of). This enables me to expand my observations to chord progressions, riffs, harmonies, etc. This geekery, when mixed with pedantry, is a heady concoction for me and Kryptonite for all those around me.
If my Dad was frustrating, then I am infuriating.
There is, however, a serious point to all of this.
Most of us agree that the ’60’s, 70’s, ’80’s and 90’s produced some great music (well, ok, maybe not the ’80’s). Why is it then that bands still craft, record and perform pop songs today? Why is it that we are not all sat in our easy chairs listening to our back catalogue with no interest in anything new?
Solomon makes an observation which exposes something incredibly profound with regards to the human condition,
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing. (Ecclesiastes 1:8)
Solomon understands that men and women have a hunger for sensory gratification. There is a need within us, a longing for our eyes and ears to be fed and satisfied. This is why we will download a great single and then crave the album (or the next great single). This is why we watch a great movie and, even as we walk out of the cinema, our mind moves restlessly to that forthcoming summer blockbuster. It is why our iPod gives way to a greater desire for an iPod touch or an iPhone.
Whether our poison is music, film, gadgetry, clothes or even shoes, we are all sensuous creatures and we all crave satisfaction. This ravenous hunger is inbuilt and cannot be satisfied by stuff, ‘the eye is not satisfied’.
And this pursuit of satisfaction is incredibly wearying.
You and I have both felt this sense of weariness. It is that dull sense of regret that follows hard on the trail of some long awaited purchase. Maybe we have craved some gadget and now, having acquired it, we begin to feel that dull ache of dissatisfaction. Oh, it’s not that there is necessarily anything wrong with the thing, it’s just that the thing doesn’t quite scratch the itch as we hoped it might.
And then the dull ache gives way again to a ferocious hunger as we see, we want and we crave that next thing.
‘The eye is not satisfied with seeing’. We are forever wanting.
This is hunger without satisfaction. This is the source of our great weariness.
The Search for Innovation
This search for sensory gratification invariably leads us to search for satisfaction in new things. There is also within us a hunger for the new, a desire for innovation.
Sometimes this desire for innovation is internalised. We determine that we are going to make a significant life change to improve our circumstances. Maybe we resolve to change our job, get an education, move house. Maybe this change is locked into our personality, we want to be different or be someone else and so we change our hairstyle, our style of dress, our circle of friends.
And sometimes this hunger for the new is externalised. Maybe we strive to make a difference in the world in which we live. Or we strive for recognition and fame.
Internalised or externalised, the root is the same: we are all seeking satisfaction and meaning. Consider then Solomon’s observation,
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11)
We need to think about this carefully. Solomon is not suggesting (as he types up his proverbs on his Dell laptop while listening to his iPod) that there is no possibility of innovation or invention. His point is more profound and, as such, is even more unsettling.
Solomon observes that, fundamentally, people do not change. Men and women have always been fickle, self-serving, ungrateful, greedy and selfish creatures. This is as true today as circa 800BC.
Despite our innate ‘chronological snobbery’ (as C.S. Lewis has termed it), we know this to be true. Consider the state of the world as of June 2009 and ask yourself if things have really moved on since Solomon’s day. Politics is still corrupt, despots still rule unchecked and unchallenged, wars ravage entire regions, people groups displaced, disease, famine, sexual anarchy, murder, discord… The list looks familiar because there has never been a period in history when things haven’t been this way.
Solomon understands this, he understands we will live our brief lives scrambling around for meaning and significance in the hope of establishing a legacy and, in the end, history will reach the point where we have been forgotten and our footprint will vanish in the sand.
Eyes Wide Open
How then should we live? Should we all become German Nihilists? The truth is I have, and Solomon has, presented you with only part of the picture. Solomon’s concern throughout much of Ecclesiastes is to examine and dissect all that occurs ‘under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and, as such, he concludes that ‘all is vanity’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
And so it is important to think carefully about what Solomon is saying when he refers to all that takes place under the sun. It is not that Solomon is advocating or adopting a secular outlook, rather he is scrutinising this fallen, sin-corrupted world with his eyes firmly open to all that this means.
This is important and explains how Ecclesiastes fits into the broader narrative of Scripture. The Apostle Paul, for example, observes that, ‘the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it’ (Romans 8:20). Paul’s point is this; our world is a place of frustration and futility not because God has lost control, but rather because God willed it this way.
Similarly Solomon has not abandoned hope and become a goth or, worse still, an emo. Rather Solomon sees that this world and our lives bear the weight of the fall and that it is pointless (indeed, vanity) to search for ultimate meaning, ultimate significance or ultimate satisfaction under the sun. The thought here is precisely the same as when New Testament writers talk of this present world and the things of this world passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31).
But still, two big questions remain, firstly, what should we do with all of this? The answer, I think, is found at the end of this book (and we shall return to this practically every week):
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Solomon recognises that the end of all philosophical enquiry, all human effort and all experience is that we come to see and know God and, in so doing, we submit to his mighty hand. In the end, Solomon exhorts us to fear God and know him for who he is. Ecclesiastes calls us to recognise that He is enthroned in the heavens and we are but mere humans urged to live obedient lives in the light of this blazing truth (Ecclesiastes 5:3).
The second question is where do we see Christ in all of this? Solomon continues,
For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:14)
We know that the destination of this world and our end is found in Christ Jesus. We will all appear before his judgement seat to receive recompense for the deeds we have committed in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10).
It seems to me that it is good we feel the weight of this little book and that with it we sense and become awakened to the emptiness and frustration of our present situation.
For unbelievers this is life without Him; devoid of meaning and significance. Know then that, in part, God subjects this world to such futility in order that you might look for meaning and significance beyond yourself and your own petty ambition and, in doing so, you might seek and find him.
For believers, it is equally good that we should feel the gravity of the fall and be reminded that apart from Him this world is devoid of meaning and significance. We too should know that, in part, God subjects this world to this frustration so that we might cling to him, be satisfied in him and might continue looking to the clouds in eager expectation and hope as we await the return of our glorious King and God.