Editor’s Note: Until reading this thoughtful essay, the only King Solomon story I knew was the one about baby-splitting. Even as a kid, I immediately knew the right answer and wasn’t so overwhelmed with the “wisdom” of Solomon. Turns out he was way dumber that I thought – or perhaps just a product of his time and station in life. I can’t help but think we’re currently witnessing another breakdown in common sense in the selfish response of so many about wearing masks to slow the spread of disease. Maybe it’s always been this way and people’s self-centeredness just stands out more during stressful times. /Linda LaScola, Editor
By Scott Stahlecker
Ecclesiastes 2:24-26. “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen, that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person that is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.”
Somewhere the rumor started that happiness is determined by wealth, status, and influence. Laying that rumor aside for the moment, the truth is that money can buy a lot of happiness—not everlasting joy, that’s different—but having money can ease a lot of stress. For it’s far better to eat than to starve, or to sleep in a warm bed rather than on a sheet of cardboard. You need money to eat and put a roof over your head, and the more money you have, the better. We all know there’s a big difference between living in a tent or a mansion, or between eating PB&J sandwiches and New York Strip.
It’s also better to not have to work for a living. (I’m guessing.) Sure, work gives you a purpose, but the operative phrase here is “work for a living.” Trading dollars, euros, or pesos for a living spoils the fun. On the other hand, if you’re doing what you want to do and making a ton of money, odds are you’re laughing all the way to the bank. Having power and influence is a good thing too, because you’ll have lots of opportunities to make more friends, and if you feel so inclined, to use your influence to help make the world a better place. Money, power and influence clearly make for a better life. There are alternative lifestyles that can be equally rewarding, but with money you also can afford to engage in these different lifestyles.
Evidently, King Solomon had everything, tried everything, and still hated life. So, let’s use our imagination and don our philosopher’s cap to comprehend why King Solomon was so miserable despite his wealth and power—and despite his faith in God.
I think of it like this: being at the top of the food chain gives you a great overview of what the rest of humanity has to endure to survive. When you get to the top, or think you have, there’s a tendency to feel privileged, and in a quirky spiritual sense, blessed. One hears it all the time especially at television awards ceremonies when inductees give a shout-out to God for blessing them beyond their wildest dreams. (I see it as a natural human response of gratitude that people of faith use when they believe God is responsible for their success.) But some press this too far and develop a superiority complex. It seems that some folks actually believe other people were put on earth for their own pleasure or to serve them.
By King Solomon’s own admission, he pursued the most wretched of follies and pleasures that life had to offer, including buying and selling male and female slaves. Who knows why he needed so many slaves? Maybe he lounged on the couch and ate a lot of grapes.
Perhaps he couldn’t dress himself. Then there were his concubines; the women slaves who served him sexually. And I’m guessing Solomon lived in the nicest gated community, and was often carried through clamoring crowds beyond the edges of his kingdom riding in the Bentley of all chariots, ruminating about how much life sucked for everyone else.
King Solomon did it all and had it all. And at the top of his game Solomon comes to the conclusion that life amounts to little more than pissing in the wind. “Striving after the wind,” as he puts it. Too bad he got it all wrong, and this text out of Ecclesiastes illustrates just how shortsighted his outlook on life was.
“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen, that it is from the hand of God.”
Solomon wasn’t a freethinker, so his perspective demanded that he regurgitate the conventional wisdom of his day. So Solomon implies that his food, drink, labor, concubines, etc., comes “by the hand of God.” And he admonishes that a person can’t really enjoy life without recognizing that God provides for these pleasures. But then he gets really cocky. Solomon says,
“To a person that is good in God’s sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight.”
Just imagine believing that if a person is good, a supernatural creature makes everything they do turn to gold. But if a person is bad, this same God takes what little they have and gives it to the wealthy. What Solomon is actually implying is that poor people were made poor by God and put on this earth to enhance the life of those whom God has blessed: namely the wealthy and the powerful.
Here’s the ironic part: Despite the fact that Solomon has a God-ordained superiority complex, he recognizes through a brilliant spark of common sense that the way God has set the world up to operate is ludicrous. Solomon refers to the notion of eating and drinking and working and procreating as “vanity and striving after the wind.”
Intellectually, Solomon can’t quite reconcile (even though he believes it) why God would bless some people and not others. He has trouble grasping the belief (even though he accepts it) that God has created a subclass of poorer and less fortunate people to serve God’s elect. And while I’d like to give Solomon credit for using his skill of rationality and admitting that his own God has created such a poor survival plan, Solomon is not about to trade in his life. He’s gotten quite accustomed to coming home to a smorgasbord of food and concubines. So why upset the status quo? (After all, we can easily surmise that Solomon felt his own faith in God had paid huge dividends and that it actually “worked” to the point of believability.)
The Freethinker’s Perspective:
King Solomon’s story provides an interesting twist of logic which hints of the disdain he feels for sinners. The crux of his way of thinking is that the person who follows God is rewarded with wisdom, knowledge, and joy, while the sinner is punished with a life of toil—presumably in agriculture. The more problematic worldview that Solomon freely expresses is this: God put the sinner on earth for the explicit purpose of serving those with power and wealth. Call it an ancient form of the prosperity gospel, with the implication that God has “predestined” some individuals to be poor and sinful and servants of the wealthy. And yet, although Solomon actually lives by this code of beliefs, he still thinks these beliefs amount to a life filled with “vanity and striving after the wind.” In other words, he thinks his own beliefs are nonsensical.
To which the freethinker would rightfully agree. There is no factual data to support the beliefs that Solomon expresses and lives by. Quite the contrary, every Bible follower is not rich and powerful, and all nonbelievers are not toiling away in the fields. Even Solomon understands this. But the key issue is one that we cannot physically witness: whatever is going on inside Solomon’s mind. How can a person cherish a system of beliefs that even the believer thinks is nonsensical, and yet allow those beliefs to dictate how negatively he treats others?
**Editor’s Questions** Well, how can people do this kind of thing? What current examples can you think of?
Bio: Scott Stahlecker was raised a Lutheran but converted to Seventh-Day Adventism in 1980. After serving the church in both lay and professional capacities, he left the church in 1990. He identified as an agnostic until 2004 and has been an outspoken atheist ever since. Throughout his life he and his wife have owned many businesses to include hospice agencies in Texas and music stores in Alaska. He is the author of the novel Blind Guides and Picking Wings Off Butterflies, a memoir about raising a child with a traumatic brain injury. He continues to write extensively about the benefits of living life as a freethinking individual. Learn more about him at www.scottstahlecker.com
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Photo Credits: By Giovanni Venanzi di Pesaro (1627-1705) – http://www.dorotheum.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16084601 ; By Vassil – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3529215