Meditations in Meaning & Values 10: Self Remedies
Eccles 1:12-14 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
We have embarked, we recently reminded ourselves, on a series where we are considering meaning, purpose and values in life, and therefore we have considered the nature of the world and the way we live in trying to come to grips with the world and make sense of it. In 1943 a psychologist by the name of Abraham Maslow wrote a paper entitled, “A Theory of Human Motivation”. Out of this came his famous pyramid or hierarchy of needs. On the bottom of the pyramid was ‘physiological’ meaning our basic physical needs, our concern to satisfy hunger, thirst etc. Next came ‘safety’ or the need to feel secure. Then came the need to feel loved and to belong. Next came the need to feel esteemed and finally when all these others are in place, the need for what he called ‘self actualisation’ which is about reaching full potential, fully becoming the person you can be. Intriguingly in later years he added a further level and said the self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality.
Observing Solomon in what he writes in Ecclesiastes, we see a man who, despite all his wisdom yearned to find true meaning in life, find his real purpose. Our verses today go back to chapter 1 where he acknowledges his hunger ‘to know’ and yet the frustration when he limits it to all that is “under the sun” and his conclusion that it is all meaningless. Maslow similarly says we all have a yearning and a drive, and these are to fulfil the needs we have within us. Let’s assume for a moment that he was right in his assessment, all we are saying is that this is how God has designed us, to be people who want to know, who want to understand. We have already noted before Solomon’s sense of frustration when he writes later, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11) The words “yet they cannot fathom” indicates a search that ends in frustration.
Indeed so far we have considered how men and women, like Solomon, seek fame, fortune and pleasure as means of obtaining a sense of achievement or of meaning or of fulfillment. We have this yearning like an inner hunger. Many of us simply subside under the difficulties and pressures of life and, I suspect, give up on working for these things. Poverty is possibly the greatest burden that makes people give up. They don’t have the luxury of climbing Maslow’s pyramid and are stuck trying to make ends meet and thus meet that most basic of needs, to survive. However, they may be more fortunate than the person of a relatively affluent middle class who struggles, like Solomon, to use their relative affluence to achieve fame, fortune and pleasure in the false hope that these will be the means to achieving meaning and fulfillment, and yet remain frustrated and reach old age with a sense of jaded cynicism abut life.
Many of us pursue these goals endlessly because we dare not give up and arrive at a conclusion of helplessness and hopelessness. This is the predicament of the world and dare I risk saying it, also the predicament of Christians who fail to learn and understand the wonder of what they have entered into when they were born again. Thus many of us try this and try that, steadily moving along the shelves containing all the different sorts of self-help books. It is quite fashionable to have a mentor, a life skills tutor, and yet as I have read their godless writings, within them is a pretense that they have got the answers and yet, as Solomon found out, all this self help is hopeless unless it includes God.
There is a famous Puritan catechism that runs, “Question 1 What is the chief end of man? Answer 1 Man’s chief end is to glorify God, (1Co 10:31) and to enjoy him for ever. (Ps 73:25,26)”. In some senses that over simplified it but later questions and answers unpacked that. Consider again Maslow’s needs and let’s see how the Gospel meets those needs:
- To survive physically: When we hear and understand the Gospel we realise that God has come to impart life (which affects our very physical being and for which He promises He will provide).
- To feel secure: He makes us secure by dealing with our Sin and putting us right with God who promises to care for us and protect us.
- To feel loved and belong: We hear He is love and through the work of Jesus we see His love for us, and He imparts His Spirit of love to us. He calls us sons and daughters, children of God, we are part of His family, we belong.
- To be esteemed: We realise we have been lifted up to sit with Christ in the heavenly places, to share in all he has, we are special, we are esteemed (look how the father in the parable of the prodigal son treated his returning son.)
- To become what you are designed to be: When we come to Christ, it is just the start; we enter a life of change where, stage by stage, we become more like Christ, more the people we were designed to be, and that includes receiving gifting to grow and to serve.
- To give outwards and experience a spiritual dimension: Yes, even that last add-on is worked out as we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire and lead us in serving Him and blessing His world.
Yes, without the Gospel, we are condemned to a life of frustration, just like Solomon. Just like him we will embark on one thing after another in our self help crusade only to find frustration. With Christ we will be fully fulfilled and at rest. Hallelujah!