Do you want to enjoy life? You need to lean into the enjoyment paradox. Ecclesiastes shows us how. It presents us with two truths that seem to contradict each other but don’t: nothing will satisfy us apart from God, but enjoy life anyway.
The first truth is hard to take: everything is vanity. “‘Absolute futility,’ says the Teacher. ‘Absolute futility. Everything is futile’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Everything is like vapor: it’s here and gone. Almost everything we do is temporary and has no lasting value.
Ecclesiastes takes us on a tour of all the ways we try to build significance in our lives. We get an education, accumulate wealth, gain power, and even pursue religion. None of it delivers what we want. All of it delivers pleasure but leaves us dissatisfied.
It’s not hard to see his point. My father lived for 85 years. He worked, enjoyed vacations and friends, and died in 2006. I have his cane in my locker and a couple of things he owned in my closet. Other than that, very little remains of his life, and few even remember him.
Depressing? You bet. But it’s good for us to wrestle with this truth; apart from God, nothing satisfies. Everything is temporal. No matter how much we try to make of ourselves in this world, nothing lasts.
Surprisingly, Ecclesiastes recommends that we respond to this reality with two actions.
First, fear God. When we take God out of the equation, life makes no sense. Only when we live for God does life begin to take on eternal significance.
But Ecclesiastes also recommends that we take a second action: enjoy life. The theme of enjoyment is so important that it’s repeated seven times in the book. For instance, in Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 he says,
“Go, eat your bread with pleasure, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for God has already accepted your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and never let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life, which has been given to you under the sun, all your fleeting days. For that is your portion in life and in your struggle under the sun.”
David Gibson expands on this advice:
“Ride a bike, see the Grand Canyon, go to the theater, learn to make music, visit the sick, care for the dying, cook a meal, feed the hungry, watch a film, read a book, laugh with some friends until it makes you cry, play football, run a marathon, snorkel in the ocean, listen to Mozart, ring your parents, write a letter, play with your kids, spend your money, learn a language, plant a church, start a school, speak about Christ, travel to somewhere you’ve never been, adopt a child, give away your fortune and then some, shape someone else’s life by laying down your own.”1
Ironically, the best way to live is to realize that God’s gifts will never satisfy us, and then to enjoy them anyway.
Applying the Enjoyment Paradox
Your job, money, achievements, hobbies, and vacations will never satisfy you. The only way you will find ultimate meaning is to look to God. Apart from him, everything is temporary, and nothing will fill the hunger in your soul.
But once you find meaning in God, enjoy all of his gifts. Don’t look to them to give your life meaning. Simply enjoy them.
I’m glad God revealed the enjoyment paradox to us because we probably wouldn’t have figured this out ourselves. But when we begin to live this way, it helps us to both find meaning and enjoy life. There’s no better way to live.