“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
One of my favorite movies every year is the Frank Capra classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I suspect we’ve all seen this film many times, maybe with at Christmas time with friends or family. One of the key early scenes is a confrontation between the hero, George Bailey – a man whose future lies in front of him – and the evil millionaire Henry Potter, a man seemingly with everything yet has no redeeming qualities.
In this scene, George is preparing to leave on his long awaited trip to Europe, but is stopped by Potter’s desire to take over the Building and Loan built by George’s father. Of course, we know how the story ends. George stays, loses the $8,000 meant for his European trip which he decided to use to save the Building and Loan, and learns the true meaning of life and “having it all” along the way.
What if we could really have it all? Money. Power. Love. Sex. Respect. Popularity. Absolutely anything we wanted. Many of us spend our lives wishing for that very scenario—or at least imagining what it would be like. But not many of us get there.
Mel Gibson, who has recently re-emerged to Hollywood accolades, got there.
Once an obscure Australian actor, Gibson’s first big break came at 23 in the cult classic Mad Max. More big roles followed in blockbusters such as the Lethal Weapon series, Maverick, Ransom, Conspiracy Theory, Payback, What Women Want and Signs. As his international stardom grew, so did his bank account. At one point Gibson was one of the top-paid actors in the world getting $25 million for every movie he starred in.
But acting wasn’t enough for him. In 1993 he stepped behind the camera to direct The Man Without a Face. Two years later he earned two Academy Awards for directing and producing Braveheart. He earned over half a billion dollars for his production of Passion of the Christ. He seemed unstoppable.
Gibson’s success didn’t stop with his career. He was married to the same woman for 25 years, and they had seven kids together. People magazine named him the Sexiest Man Alive. Premiere magazine listed him as one of the most powerful people in Hollywood.
Worldwide fame. Unlimited riches. True love. Fatherhood. Widespread respect for his talent. International renown for his sexual appeal. Virtually limitless power in his career. Rarely does one man get so much in one lifetime.
Mel Gibson had it all. So he must have been the happiest man on the planet, right? He had the power to do almost anything he wanted. The money to buy almost anything he could imagine. Almost nothing was out of reach for him.
Yet Gibson felt something was missing. All he had wasn’t enough. So he added some new experiences to the mix: addiction. Drugs, alcohol, women, anything. His addictions very nearly ruined his life, if not his career.
Eventually Gibson sought treatment for his addictions. But after getting clean and sober, he found himself right back where he had started: with an emptiness in his life. He was in the celebrity wilderness for over 10 years.
Gibson wasn’t the first guy to reach that depressing conclusion. In fact the viewpoint is as ancient as the Old Testament. King Solomon, sometimes referred to as the wisest man in antiquity, was such a man. Solomon reached the same conclusion about life on earth over 3,000 years ago. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, he spells out everything he tried in his quest for meaning in this life—and how all of it left him feeling empty.
What happened to Solomon in his quest for meaning? How did a man who began with so much promise end with such despair and hopelessness? And more importantly, could this happen to you and me?
Early in his reign, Solomon was described as a king who could do no wrong. The first 10 chapters of I Kings offer numerous instances of Solomon’s remarkable fitness as King of Israel:
- In 1 Kings 2 Solomon consolidates his rule.
- In Chapter 3 God grants him wisdom, wealth, and honor.
- In Chapter 4, we see Solomon coming into the fullness of his wealth and fame. Verse 26 reads “Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses and, and twelve thousand horses.”
- Chapters 5 – 7 describe the building of the Temple and Solomon’s palace, where over 180,000 men were conscripted to provide the labor.
- Chapter 8 details the dedication of the Temple and the placing of the Ark into inner sanctuary.
- In Chapter 9 God appears to Solomon for a second time, saying He had heard Solomon’s appeal and promising to put his Name and eyes and heart on the Temple forever and to establish Solomon’s royal throne over Israel forever, so long as Solomon walks before Him “faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness.”
But then God says something else, something foreshadowing not only Solomon’s later years but the very future of Israel itself. Listen to the God’s admonition from verses 6-9: “But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name.’”
This is a remarkable warning from God, directly aimed at Solomon’s one significant character flaw – indeed, the central character flaw in so many of us – pride and the belief that he could discern a better path than the one God has directed.
What I find most interesting here is God’s consistency. Throughout scripture, God compels us to stay on a path to righteousness. He doesn’t lurk in the dark corners, waiting for us to make mistakes and raining down punishment when we do. He tells us plainly, simply, how to lead a life of fulfillment. He also tells us the consequences when we don’t.
Solomon seemed to have his reign secured. He had followed God Faithfully and used his wisdom and wealth judiciously. Yet lying in Solomon’s heart was the seed of his downfall.
What caused that downfall? In a word, COMPROMISE. Solomon
compromised his wisdom to gain earthly possessions and fame. Ultimately, these compromises emptied Solomon’s heart of his love for God.
Solomon’s compromise is our compromise. Solomon’s downfall is our downfall. Solomon’s problem was not ignorance but outright rebellion – just as we rebel in our own ways.
Late in life, reflecting on his past, Solomon would realize the mistakes he made in writing Ecclesiastes. His conclusion in Ecclesiastes 12:13 is telling: “Now all has been heard; here is the heart of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is duty if all mankind.”
No prosperity in the world matters more than this, even today. As Jesus admonished the crowd in Luke 12:15: “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possession.” Rather, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” just as Solomon had done early in his life.
So many of us know the legacy of Solomon all too well. Over the course of our lives we fall victim to the pursuit of position, of money, and yes, the lure of adoration. Every achievement – a promotion, a large bonus check, flattery from someone – feeds this sense that we are somehow responsible for our own destinies, that we need no one but myself.
The truth is we are in control of our own destinies. God grants us that choice. He calls us to righteousness and we have the choice on how we respond. We can choose God’s path or we can choose a different path. When we select a path different from the one God has put before us, He warns us of the consequences.
Like Solomon, most of us have chosen wrongly in the past. Those choices may have taken large tolls on our relationships, our health, even our walk with God. All for the pursuit of wealth or recognition or popularity or acceptance. And all for, as Solomon discovered, nothing.
Yet the story of redemption is, ultimately, the story of return: returning to the path God has set before us, returning to our true selves rather than the selves we have created, returning to the unconditional love given to us by our heavenly Father. At the moments of our own turning points, perhaps times in when nothing seems to really matter, we find redemption and acceptance and are welcomed back into the arms of a loving God.
Solomon had choices. We have choices. God awaits our response.