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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, January 12 2023

Stooping down to pick up nothing

A university student with limited funds imagines what it would be like to be wealthy. But what does the Bible say about the pitfalls of extravagant living?

by Aaron Jennings

Have you ever wondered how incredible and enjoyable your life would be if you won the lottery? I recently saw an advertisement that depicted this couple who just won a large sum of money. They said since winning the money, nothing much has changed. They still say hi to everyone they walk past and they still read the newspaper; it’s just that -- now they’re waking up in balmy hammocks on the beach in the Bahamas. It was actually a really well-made advertisement and it got me wishing that I was rich so that I could go to the Bahamas and read newspapers.

As a university student with limited funds it’s fun to imagine what life would be like when you’re wealthy enough to do outlandish and extravagant things. And even though I hear people say: Money is the root of all evil, or money can’t buy you happiness, if I’m being honest I wouldn’t let those thoughts stop me from accepting millions of dollars if it was offered to me.

I read an article about Lottery winners which discussed their happiness after they won a large sum of money and one psychologist made an interesting point. She said:

“Eventually, the thrill of winning the lottery will itself wear off. If all things are judged by the extent to which they depart from a baseline of past experience, gradually even the most positive events will cease to have impact....”

Ok, so simply put, rich people become accustomed to being rich and living in the Bahamas, but that’s not exactly a bad thing, right? What’s so bad about lottery living? I thought to myself, what does the bible have to say on this topic of extravagant living? And, as I looked into it, I found that there was one man who dedicated his life to this very question. This is a man who truly threw himself into the “belly of the beast” so that we didn’t have to. This man was King Solomon. In the second chapter of one of his books we see a profound answer to why indulgent living or “self-gratification” as we may call it, isn’t good for us.

Ecclesiastes 2:1: I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity.

Right there! There it was - the answer to my question. Living indulgently is vanity. Excessively spending on indulgence would cause you not only to get used to it but, at its core, the action of spending excessively on yourself -- the essence of the action -- Solomon states, that it is conceited, egotistical and prideful.

But, obviously, we seldom fit in a position where this even applies to us. We don’t have millions to spend on champagne wishes and caviar dreams. But, if we extract the action or idea of self-gratification, we see that it definitely applies to more than just the millionaires.

Solomon states in Ecclesiastes chapter 2 and Verse 10.

“And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. All was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun."

So, what does that mean for you and me? I think that working hard at building an empire is certainly a worthwhile venture, but yet, here, the wisest man on earth is saying that all was vanity and striving after wind. Equivalent to stooping down to pick up nothing, as a wise man once said. This really shook me because I thought about how much time I am personally wasting when I spend time waiting in line to attend a concert that ultimately doesn’t bring me closer to God, or anticipating the newest video game, or saving up for the latest gadget?

I’ve been thinking and reflecting on all the ways I’ve been grasping at the wind in my life and, to be honest, it can get me down when I realise just how much time I’m spending on frivolous, meaningless, grasping-for-the-wind activities.

So the big question is: Did Solomon find anything worthwhile doing in the realm of self-gratification like he attempted to find in his life-long experiment? Yes, he did, and he gives us the answer in Ecclesiastes 12:13.

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man's all.”

So, let us try to follow the lessons that Solomon spent his entire life figuring out, so that we can have a satisfying and Godly life. And now that we know the answer, we can rest easy and excited knowing that striving to show love for God and keeping his commandments is of far greater worth and satisfaction than winning the lottery.