I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:1, 2.
Do you hear Solomon refer to God as the one who doesn’t allow the man to enjoy his wealth and honor? It sounds like God has a direct hand in this man’s misery doesn’t it. But let’s turn the stone and look at it from another angle.
Earlier in Ecclesiastes we read the reason everything is meaningless is because after a lifetime of striving, someone else gets to spend the results of our efforts. Why? Think about why this is true. What is God doing? What is the situation in which the person striving finds futility and emptiness at the end of their life? As far as I can tell, it isn’t God who makes us miserable it’s us. If all anyone ever does is work without enjoying the gains they have made, they have no one but themselves to blame for the lack of joy they find at the end of the day.
It’s in the programming, in my estimation. If we give into worry, anxiety and fretting about security and provision, we can’t feel confident our gains will last long enough for us to enjoy them. It’s a mindset brought on either by our cultural or sub-cultural habits. For instance a culture could be created by the king or ruler that 60% of all anyone produces goes to the government. In this case, the seed for next year’s crop, livestock breeding pairs and whatever else we use to earn our way has to come out of the 40% left. Out of this we also have to make a profit enough to feed, clothe and house ourselves. Frugality becomes the name of the game and eventually all we know.
Dad was young boy in 1929, roughly 7 or 8, I believe. The poverty of his family formed his character, pursuits and perception of what it meant to have “enough” because they ended up eating squirrels, possums and rattlesnakes sometimes, just to survive. I asked him once how his family afforded bullets and gunpowder when they were so dirt poor. He gave me a crooked grin and said, “I had to become a crackshot, that’s how.” Every time he shot something he would save the bullet if he could find it as well as the shell, reform it and fill the cartridge again. Later, my brother, Tom, and he shot a jackrabbit on the run without actually taking careful aim; they just brought the gun to their shoulders, pointed it at the rabbit and shot. Those who were there said every time they shot, the jackrabbit jumped—meaning it was hit. Economy developed Dad’s sense of precision and frugality.
Years later, I took him and Mom to an Italian restaurant for dinner. Dad looked the menu over, picked something and we ordered. Before the waitress picked up the menus, however, he glanced at the prices and went red in the face. I guess the dish he ordered was $11 or something like that, which made him squirm and gag. He refused to eat something that expensive because no food should cost that much. I ate it for dinner later.
Conditioning is a powerful thing. People grow up poor who only later in life become prosperous develop certain ticks and habits which affect the way they reason and live. A man who is afraid of losing his prosperity will work himself into the ground to put as much cushion as possible between him and the feared eventuality.
Taking care of our wealth is scriptural. Worry and anxiety about it isn’t.
Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 6:9.
I think the word described is contentment. Satisfied would be another good one.
Yet the problem with what we call “contentment” is that some people see it as complacency. It’s not, of course, but it’s sometimes interpreted that way. Being satisfied with what we have—i.e. being content—doesn’t imply by default a lack of initiative or inventiveness. Creative endeavor just for the sake of more or craving what someone else has falls under lust and covetousness not true creativity for its own sake.
On the other hand, if we don’t use our curiosity to invent, we don’t improve or change or grow. This brings up a conundrum for me. Where’s the middle ground on this? I mean, if we are to be content with what we have, does that mean our lives and situations cannot be improved? Think about it for a minute. On the one hand we have the Bible preaching contentment, then on the other it teaches us to accomplish. What’s the perfect balance of these two sides?
To my mind it’s more about attitude than anything else. In cold climates we need to heat our homes during the winter, wear clothing which is insulated and generally get around in slick conditions. A person moving from a tropical climate could not survive the weather “being content” with what they wore in warmer weather. So Paul and Jesus must be saying something else.
The attitude of lust gets misdirected to sex alone for most people. If I mention (which I just did) the word, most people think of porn, promiscuity or extramarital affairs. Rarely do we take into account the nature of lust is to crave what we don’t have or obsess about what we do.
Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite.
Wanting what we have means having what we want. At the same time, I see no problem with wanting a flat screen TV, new car or better kitchen, if the old ones are about done—or even if they aren’t. Lust isn’t about wanting new things but being overwhelmed with the desire for them. In other words, it becomes all we think about. Covetousness and greed fall under lust, in my estimation. When we constantly want other things besides what we have, we become like children who obsess over the toy they haven’t got rather than playing with the ones they already have.
It’s one of the problems with giving children or anybody too much. Ever seen a picture of a little girl or boy with only one toy? Notice they value their treasure very much and protect it so they can play with it for a long time. I don’t know that “content” necessarily describes most children in this instance but it’s something along that line of thinking.
I want to stop lusting after the grass in the next field—even if my grass isn’t as good. Which brings up another point: Why is my grass sparse or dying? Almost without fail the reason most of our own “fields” are in bad repair is because we ignore them for the sake of lusting after another. In other words, we obsess so much about what we don’t have that someone else has that we aren’t able to appreciate what we do have.
The Bible has no problem with gaining more by being profitable through industriousness; nor does there seem to be any condemnation of owning lots of stuff. What is frowned upon is wanting more “just because” to the point of stealing, defrauding or simply lusting. Contentment in the biblical sense, therefore, must not imply gains from one’s holdings but gains desired or made at the expense of someone else. Last thought: Comparison is probably the culprit in most issues of this sort. We see what another has and ours pales by comparison. It could be that the other person has nothing more than what we have available to us, yet because we aren’t satisfied or content with what we have we think theirs is better.
Chasing after the Joneses is like a dog chasing its tail or a person chasing the wind.