|2 I said to myself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But again, this also was mere breath. 2 I said of mirth, “It is wild revelry,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life.
When I was in college I worked on a roller coaster at a theme park just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was fun watching all the people line up for the ride, some looking a little scared, others looking forward the wild ride in store for them.
I rode the roller coaster many times while I worked there, and at first it was exhilarating. The anticipation as the coaster made its first ascent up the large hill, the quick, steep drops, careening around sharp corners, and a series of fast ups and downs made it an exciting ride.
Some of decided we would try for the world record roller coaster ride. That meant we would be on the coaster for about two days straight. Before we went to the management to ask if we could do it, we did a short practice run—about 30 minutes on the ride.
While I was excited about possibly setting a world record, I have to admit that by the time we did the eighth round, I was getting a little bored. There were too much movement to read, I couldn’t really concentrate on anything, and frankly the drops and turns began to lose their excitement. I was almost glad when the management turned down our request.
It’s an old story. Someone is looking for how to best live their life, and they turn to pleasure. “Eat, drink, and be merry!” And they eventually find out that pleasure is not all it is cracked up to be. Qohelet is no different. He learns that having fun is a fleeting experience. It is like riding an endless roller coaster. The excitement soon disappears. The revelry that wine brings about quickly fades into a hangover. Sure, you can pick up another bottle, but Qohelet is wise enough to know that just extending a fleeting experience does not prolong pleasure. It only deadens our ability to respond to it.
When it comes to pleasure as an answer to life, “There’s no there there,” as Gertrude Stein once said (of her home town, Oakland). There is nothing of substance. We have a quick thrill, then it is over, and we either move quickly to the next thrill, getting lost in the addictive chase for more and greater pleasures, or wonder why it is such a big deal in the first place.
If there is an answer to the problem of life, Qohelet is sure it is not found in pleasure.
Post Script: They tore that roller coaster, Thunder Road, down. Why? It was just not as exciting as the newer roller coasters.
Thoughts and Questions
- Think of something you enjoy doing on a regular basis. Why do you enjoy it?
- One of Qohelet’s convictions is that our time here is very limited. He is asking, “What do we do with the few days we have?” Why not “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”?