Last week, I was looking for a little afternoon snack. I went to the fridge and palmed a Honeycrisp apple out of the bottom drawer. We don’t often do the Honeycrisps, because they’re always about a dollar-plus extra a pound. But they are so much better than your run-of-the-mill Red Delicious or Fuji – they’re even better than the Galas. So, every now and then we splurge. I gave the apple a quick rinse and paper-toweled it off, then sunk my teeth in – and cringed.
My bottom teeth were fine – they broke the apple’s skin and plunged into the crisp, white flesh. My top teeth, however, pierced the spotted red surface and slid through a soft, brownish mush. I quickly pulled the fruit away and looked down. Sure enough, there was a huge, deep, ugly spot marring my beautiful, expensive apple. I am a texture guy, so I was thoroughly creeped. Even though the rest of the apple looked okay, the whole fruit suffered from guilt-by-association and went into the trash.
As I read Ecclesiastes 2 this morning, I thought about that apple. In this chapter of Solomon’s cynical book, he’s about to embark on an exploration of life in order to find that which is meaningful. To do this, he is going to run three tests – he is going to test pleasure, wisdom, and work. All three of these are activities that people typically try to find meaning and purpose in. Unfortunately, few can dive all in like Solomon, because we have lives to live. That’s why it’s good to be king – especially a king like Solomon who had all the time and money at his disposal to go all out with each of these three experiments.
First, he went after pleasure. “I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine….I built houses and planted vineyards for myself….I made myself pools….I bought male and female slaves….I gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings….I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.” (Ecclesiastes 2:3,4,6-8) So, we’ve got partying, accumulation of really nice stuff, power over people, tons of money, entertainment, and all the beautiful women one could ever desire. There’s at least one beautiful apple in there for each of us. What’s the pleasure in that list that caught your attention (hopefully not the slave one, or else we have other issues to talk about)? This is a list that the world will tell you is the ultimate – hedonism at its finest – the epitome of what life is all about. Yet, when Solomon took that bite, his teeth sunk into mush. “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11) He swung at pleasure, and it was a whiff.
Second, he went after wisdom. What could be wrong with learning stuff? Didn’t Solomon write a whole book about that where he said that wisdom is the greatest thing you could strive for? “For whoever finds [wisdom] finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, but he who fails to find [wisdom] injures himself; all who hate [wisdom] love death.” (Proverbs 8:35-36) Wisdom looked like a very promising prospect, so Solomon jumped in. “I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly….I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” (Proverbs 2:12-13) It was a great start, but it was short-lived. That’s the problem with having so much wisdom – you tend to over-think things. “Then I said in my heart, ‘What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?’ And I said in my heart that this also is vanity.” The smart guy dies just like the idiot dies. What’s the difference between the two? Wisdom came barreling at him, but it was low and outside – another whiff – strike two.
Time for number three – last chance to find some meaning in life. Now is the time to get to work – literally. Yet, “work” was a non-starter. From the first verse in this section, he’s defeated. “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18) He’s discouraged, because he knows that no matter how hard he works, he’s going to have to leave it all behind when he dies. And the person who comes after him and enjoys the fruit of all his labors will probably just be a big buffoon who will waste it all away. “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23) This pitch came right down the middle, but Solomon was defeated even to swing. Strike three – head to the bench dragging your bat in the dirt behind you.
Three apples that seemed beautiful on the surface. Three nasty brown spots waiting right below the surface. What were those brown spots? I’ll give you a hint. Chapter two of Ecclesiastes in the ESV contains thirty uses of the first person pronoun “I”. In only twenty-six verses, Solomon manages to refer to himself thirty times. Compare that with the number of times he refers to God in the same chapter – a whopping three times. That is a 10/1 “I” to God ratio. That brown spot under the apple’s surface was not a “what”, it was a “who”.
God created us to find our meaning, joy, and contentment in Him. When we do, then everything else we have and all else we do will also have meaning, joy, and contentment. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) Wisdom is a beautiful apple that God has given to us. When our desire is to use wisdom to follow God and serve Him – when wisdom’s source is our fear (reverence) and our knowledge of Him (Proverbs 9:10) – then we will experience the sweetness of God’s gift (Proverbs 24:14). The same is with work. The same is true even with pleasure. Pleasure is a gift that God has given to us to aid us in enjoying our time on this earth. He’s just told us, “Okay, here are the rules. Do it My way, and it’s awesome. Do it your way, it will lose its meaning.”
For many Christians, a 10/1 “I” to God ratio may be a bit of an improvement. Hence why so many believers are discouraged and wondering why God isn’t giving them more joy and meaning in their lives. When we inject “I” into the apple, the fruit becomes tainted and the brown mush spreads. However, when our first desire is God’s glory and His rules and His plan, then life is fantastic. Crispy white sweetness no matter where you bite. Even when the bitter times come, we can survive because we’ve already tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). This meaning and joy is His wonderful gift that He greatly desires to give to us because we are the “apple of [His] eye.” (Psalm 17:8)
And with that, I’ve officially beaten this metaphor to within an inch of its life – which makes me wonder, how is pursuing God like making applesauce? Going to have to think on that one a bit….