I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all my hard work in this world.
Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless.
So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. But if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away and gives it to those who please him. This, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)
In the previous paragraph, Qoheleth had acknowledged that death is the great equalizer of life and levels the playing field. Death is indiscriminate and does not distinguish between the rich or the poor; the wise or the foolish; the young or the old. Everyone dies, and to add insult to injury, the memory of their lives quickly evaporates.
That being said, he then turned to the futility of the work he enjoys. Although he found work to be fulfilling, he simultaneously found it frustrating, for he realized his achievements and all he has acquired will outlast his physical existence. He has amassed generational wealth. So much wealth that his descendants will never want for anything. This creates worry and anxiety for him.
What happens if they waste it?
What happens if they lose it?
What happens if they don’t appreciate it or take it for granted?
What happens if they don’t learn the value of hard work and develop a strong work ethic?
What happens if they love their gifts more than they love and remember me?
These, and similar questions I’m sure, kept him awake at night. Qoheleth could not reconcile all that he knew about wisdom, wealth and mortality.
These frustrations led him to a decision. He decided to be fully present in each moment and enjoy life at face value. His decision was one that each of us needs to make if we’re going to fully enjoy life. Sometimes decisions are made in a moment of resignation, where we give up and settle. Other times decisions are rooted in a realization; an awakening of sorts.
For Qoheleth, the realization was that God is the giver of life’s gifts and blessings. But he also realized that God was also the one who gives the ability to enjoy those gifts and blessings. In and of themselves, the gifts and blessings are neutral. Any enjoyment we have comes from God and serves as reminders that no gift is greater than the giver of the gift.
I wonder if Jesus had this passage in the back of his mind when he famously asked, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36, NLT) The truth is that anyone who places more value on the gift than the giver is in danger of his warning.
Being fully aware of the present moment is to pay attention, in a particular way, to the present moment without passing judgment. It is in the present moment that we find clarity and become fully alive.