Bumper Sticker Philosophy
Some of you are way too young to remember when bumper stickers were popular. When I was younger, you could tell a lot about the person driving a car by the stickers plastered onto its rear bumper. Before Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok, you went viral by slapping a 3″x12″ sticker on the back of your Honda and driving down the road. Some were vulgar. Some funny. Some depressing. Some deep. And some openly worldly with a hint of despair.
One that fell into that last category read: “In search of the eternal buzz.” That says a lot about a person—both about what he or she is looking for, and about what they haven’t yet found. They’re looking for lasting pleasure. And so far, it’s still eluding them.
You may remember that in Ecclesiastes, King Solomon records his search for happiness. And you may recall, too, that the point in his journal is this: “Even if—in the quest for meaning—we could try everything under heaven that there is to try, we would never find our meaning here. For our Maker is our meaning.”
Our bumper sticker expresses one thing people try for the meaning they desire. And from what we have seen in this Windchasers and Worshipers series (this is Part 7), I’m guessing that Solomon had one plastered on his chariot! There was a stretch in his life when he was clearly searching for a lasting eternal buzz. He wanted to feel good, and for it not to go away.
Check out Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, and think about what Solomon writes. Here we we see a man desperately craving for pleasure but always leaving every pleasure table with an aching hunger for something more. Let me outline his thoughts by highlighting his experiment, his experience, and his explanation. I’m going to run through these quickly so try to keep up!
Solomon sets out to test his heart with pleasure (Ecc. 2:1); to experiment with all kinds of enjoyable delights while hoping to find one pleasure that would last. This was a thinking man’s real search for lasting pleasure (Ecc. 2:3). And in his search for the eternal buzz he indulged every sense he had. Sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Check it out. They’re all tried. Food, wine, music, sex, gardens—he tried whatever could possibly delight his senses and tickle his nerve endings with pleasure (Ecc. 2:10).
So what was his experience? Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 reveals that all those pleasures were vanity, a striving after wind. There was nothing lasting to be gained by any of it. He discovered that “Even if—in the quest for meaning—he could try every pleasure under heaven that there is to try, he would never find his meaning here…” Countless millions of humans have discovered the same thing.
Solomon doesn’t just tell us that a search for an eternal buzz is futile. He offers explanation. His life and his words present four reasons:
- Because pleasure addicts and destroys. If you know anything of King Solomon’s life you know that his pursuit of pleasure became addictive and destructive. Just think about his addiction to sex and women. He had 300 wives and 700 more women who were there for his pleasure. Sex controlled his life and ruined him. Both his family and his kingdom were destroyed because of it.
Friend: just like with Solomon, any and every obsession with drink or drugs or porn or fun or parties or pleasure will lead to bondage and ruin.
- Because pleasure promises more than it delivers. In Ecclesiastes 2:2 Solomon asks of pleasure, “What use is it?”. What does pleasure actually accomplish? What value does it have? His point in asking the rhetorical question is that pleasure is pointless as a source of lasting meaning. But pleasure doesn’t advertise that way. Pleasure doesn’t tempt us by saying: “Here, look at me. I’m pointless and useless. Try something else!” No, it tempts us by promising, “This will make you happy. This will give you meaning. This will last!” But it doesn’t deliver.
- Because pleasure becomes boring and wearisome. You’d never guess this about pleasure, but when you keep on seeking for more and more of it, it can bore you all the way to depression (Ecc. 1:8-9). Pleasure-seeking is exhausting and boring. And because pleasure-pursuit gets boring, you end up having to figure out new pleasures that somehow are more fun than the last ones—and on and on it goes.
I’ve got some issues with GK Chesterton’s theology, but he’s spot on when he writes: “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure. [It occurs at that point] when you have exhausted that last dream and you find it leaves you barren or empty.”
Boredom and depression do not happen because of pleasure deficiency, but pleasure overload. Todays teens and millennials grip a world of texting, sexting, entertainment, food and gaming pleasure, all in the palm of their hands; while being gripped by a world of pain in their hearts. By the time they’ve hit 25 they’ve experienced every pleasure there is, and are bored with it all. Worse still, they’ve experienced it all, found it all to be empty, and are left wondering: “If this is all there is, then what is there?”
- Because pleasure never lasts. Solomon’s famous expression of this in Ecclesiastes 12:1-6. How long will today’s pleasure last? The drinking binge? The great food? The porn episode? The party? The amusement park thrills? The girl or guy? You will always outlive your latest pleasure, or your ability to enjoy it. I could name 50 things that I used to be able to enjoy that I can’t enjoy any more. Take my word for it: if pleasure was the meaning of my life than I’d be getting more and more depressed by the day. But it isn’t; and I’m not. Pleasure—when enjoyed in the right way as defined by God, is good. But when enjoyed in any other way—traps you in a bored and desperate search for more.
It is really important that we all understand something here: most of the pursuits and experiences we are talking about are not bad in themselves—and we will see later that they are valuable in a certain way if they are pursued with God in mind. We may enjoy life. But we must do so with God in charge, or else life’s pleasures will prove unsatisfying to the deepest longings of your soul.
In fact, the Bible tells us that “in [God’s] presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psa. 16:11)! This means that God wants us to be happy and to feel deep holy and happy pleasure. He just wants us to know that we’ll never find these under the sun.
As with Mr. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis is not always theologically reliable, but on certain topics he nails it. And here’s one of them. He once wrote—“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).
At the end of the day this explains why, in this time when nearly every sensual pleasure is accessible and affordable, people all around us—and maybe including us—are in despair. It is because that part of us that is below the surface of our skin—cannot be satisfied by what touches the skin. What is physical and sensual cannot answer the craving of the human heart. The heart is a place where only God can meet us, and only God can delight.