Breaking Free from the American Dream

Ecclesiastes 2:1-12

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had home born slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines. Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me. 10 All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. 11 Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun. 12 So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done?

Solomon begins to go into detail of what he did and what he found as a result.  He maintains his theme of chasing the wind as a description of what he calls futile.  I love what he says at the end of this passage: what will man do except for what has already been done?  Like he said in chapter 1, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

It is amazing to read what Solomon accomplished in worldliness while he was ruler of Israel.  He didn’t just plant gardens; he planted forests.  He didn’t just have a few concubines; he had a league of women at his disposal.  He didn’t just live in a castle; he built multiple houses.  He didn’t just have some servants or slaves; he bred them.  He was the most famous and powerful king anyone had known.  All the while he maintained his wisdom.  In other words, not only did he have all of this, but he also didn’t let it control him, something that is next to impossible for us to do.  He continually maintained a sober state of mind and even still he discovered there was no profit under the sun.

You know, as I read today’s passage I keep thinking, “wow, that’s the American Dream, isn’t it?”  Some folks may not prefer 6 houses, 3 forests, and 300 women, but don’t we all desire to not withhold our hearts from any pleasure?  With numerous people telling us what not to do, what to do, and what is and isn’t good or bad for you, don’t you ever get the feeling that you want to just break free of restriction and do what you please?  I know I feel that way.  I try to experience that somewhat whenever I take a vacation or I have a few days off out of the normal routine.  I want to eat whatever I feel like, I want to skip working out, I want to sleep in, I want to see the world…  I don’t want to have regulations dictating what I can and cannot do.  Interestingly enough, by the end of that time, I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine. Maybe I just have a personality that lends itself to a stricter regimen, but we all have similar experiences.  We want to break free and after a while of “being free” we are exhausted and striving to return to what we broke free from.

Solomon had no limits except for one: the satisfaction he received (or didn’t) by obtaining and experiencing these things.  Capitalism entices us to strive after this, live above our means, and promises us satisfaction, but it is never enough.  J. D. Rockefeller was once asked, “How much money is enough?”  He responded, “just a little more.”  It’s never enough and it will never be worth it.  It is just striving after the wind.

I find it ironic that what we call the American Dream is something that Solomon already accomplished and he then tells us, “So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done?”




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