As for me, look, I increased and added wisdom beyond all who were before me over Jerusalem, and my heart has seen much wisdom and knowledge. And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know revelry and folly, for this, too, is herding the wind. For in much wisdom is much worry, and he who adds wisdom adds pain.
Solomon brings another expression to describe the world as it is: herding the wind. Merest breath (impermanence, relentlessly cyclic) and herding the wind (at the bottom elusive, frustrating, resisting our efforts): If we don’t experience life in these terms, Solomon says, it’s because our eyes aren’t open.
But Solomon’s are. With more intensity than any before him, Solomon sets out to discover the value behind all activity. And he returns from his quest both wiser and sadder, equipped with two colorful phrases: merest breath and herding the wind.
From Solomon’s gloomy wisdom I extract the following principles:
- Often, the closer you look, the more uglies will come to the surface. That perfect family, the company ranked first in job satisfaction, the pristine church – place any of these under the microscope and you’ll discover plenty of waste, contradiction, futility. Of course with that observation comes much opportunity for sourness, complaining, cynicism. But better to just show up with a strong stomach, a tongue ready to be bit, and patience for all.
- “Under the sun” happiness relies a lot on a type of ignorance, willful or otherwise. So you have a choice: 1) be the guy at the party who reminds everyone that it’ll far too soon come to an end, that the clean-up is going to be horrible, that it’s all kind of hollow and pointless. Or b) set aside all of these hard truths and focus on simply enjoying the meal.
- Ask yourself, Do I really want to stare into the abyss? Why would you? Through his far-ranging experiences, research, and introspection, Solomon lifted the top off of life and peered down, to find what wasn’t subject to futility. The discovery wasn’t uplifting. So now will you go to the bottom of things to see if you’ll come up with something different? You won’t. “We are glad when the day ends, when the play ends, and ecstasy is too much pain,” says the poet. In other words, happiness is stressful enough.
P.S. Of course in Jesus Christ there isn’t just “under the sun.”