Are you searching for the meaning of life?
In Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26, as we learned in the previous post, the Teacher tries out seven different roles, each one an attempt to find the meaning of life. So far, he has tried the Philosopher, and found it comes up empty. Now the Teacher takes on the role of the Student. Look at what he says about this role in Ecclesiastes 1:16-18.
The Student attempts to find meaning in life by acquiring wisdom and knowledge.
How many of you are students? I am a student, having just started the dissertation phase of doctoral studies. While the Student role is definitely related to those who like traditional academics, like the people who tear their hair out trying to get masters degrees and doctorates, many people are students in other ways. You don’t have to go to school or have college degrees to be a student. This is the reader, whether that is the newspaper, or articles online, or magazines, or blog posts or books of all kinds. But there are other kinds of students who have a thirst to learn in different ways, such as the travelers, finding new places, or the person who watches documentaries, or listens to podcasts.
But in this role, the Teacher says, the pursuit of the student is endless and fruitless. There’s always more to learn! As the phrase goes, “the more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know.”
Dorsey says that the role of the Student “only makes a person more painfully aware than ever of his or her abysmal ignorance to the point of life.”
So the Teacher said that he tried out the third role, the Party Animal, which he describes in Ecclesiastes 2:1-2.
The Party Animal attempts to find meaning in life by just having fun! How many of you would admit to being the party animal???
This could certainly be the person who loves to throw actual parties or go dancing at the club. But it is also the thrill seeker. The sports enthusiast, the one who loves entertainment of all kinds. Movies, TV shows, the great outdoors. This is the comedian, the jokester and the prankster. I watched a video this week of the magician David Blaine who tied himself to 50 huge helium balloons that carried him up over 20,000 feet. He had to use a special breathing technique to make it through the high altitudes where oxygen is dangerously thin. This is the person who seeks to see how far they can push their body, like those crazy marathon runners.
The Teacher concludes that for the Party Animal, fun and laughter provide no meaning to life either, because after the party is over nothing has been gained.
So the Teacher continues, and he takes on the role of the Alcoholic. Read Ecclesiastes 2:3.
This person attempts to escape the pain through wine. Dorsey translates this verse like this, “I tried dulling my senses with wine and embracing folly, until I thought, ‘What good does this do during a person’s fleeting days?’ ”.
So there is no doubt that alcoholics are in view here. But it is not just alcohol. In our day we might expand that a bit and call this role the Addict, because there are many ways that we try to dull our sense and escape and try to find meaning in the world. Addiction comes in many shapes and sizes, doesn’t it? TV shows, movies, sci-fi, fantasy, porn, exercise, dieting, nicotine, drugs, sex, shopping, you name it.
This, too, the Teacher discovers is a dead end: the nagging question of the meaning of life cannot be silenced with wine or any other source of addiction. There is an emptiness deep within that cannot be filled.
But what of a more productive method? The Teacher, in the final three roles, definitely makes a turn toward roles that seem very positive, but they, too, have a dark side.