By Michael Elmore
People live such utterly meaningless lives. Victor Frankel, a survivor of the Nazi Concentration Camps wrote a book entitled, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In it, Frankel suggests that the reason he survived the Concentration Camps while multiples of tens of thousands didn’t was because he found a sense of meaning that gave him a sense of purpose that kept his hopes and himself alive.
It is my belief that most of us walk around with huge gaping holes in our souls that I describe as a feeling of emptiness. Emptiness is an extremely painful but all too common condition. The deal is that people seem to be on a constant hunt to find something, someone, some career, some addiction, some something – most anything to fill the inner emptiness they pathetically bear. Most of us would do anything to fill the “holes in our souls”. Have you ever had this feeling. Most of us have – I put myself in that category too.
St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (c. 325) expressed much the same thought, “Our hearts were created for Thee O God and our hearts remain restless until they rest in Thee.” Similar phrases echo throughout the centuries by Christian writers and philosophers. Rene Descartes, a French mathematician in the 18th Century coined a most perceptive axiom on the subject. Descartes wrote, “Within all of us is a God-shaped void that can only be filled by God himself.” Sandu Singh, a Christian missionary and philosopher from the sub-continent of India during the 19th Century echoed the same thought when he wrote, “The human heart is such a tiny thing but only the infinite God can fill it.”
I have recently been reading in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, meditating on the words of the man who Scripture says was the wisest man that ever lived – Solomon. I think Solomon was particularly aware of the inner emptiness that he felt. And his empty feels must have been great because he attempted to fill them in such numerous ways. Read along with me some of the things Solomon attempted to use to fill the inner vacancy his heart must have felt.
In the first seven chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes he describes all of his personal attempts he tries to use to find fulfillment. He tries scientific discovery (1:10-11), wisdom and philosophy (1:13-18), entertainment (2:1), alcohol (2:3), architecture (2:4), property (2:7-8), and luxury (2:8) and least but not last, sex; the man had a thousand wives and 700 mistresses. Solomon turned his mind towards different philosophies to find meaning, such as materialism (2:19-20), and even moral codes (including chapters 8-9). He found that everything was meaningless, a temporary diversion that had no purpose or longevity. After all of his personal efforts to fill the emptiness that he felt within, Solomon concludes that every one of his diversions is “utterly meaningless”. In fact, he states over 35 times through this relatively short book of the Bible that every attempt he ever made to find fulfillment and fill the emotional hole of his life was futile, pointless and meaningless.
A song that recently came out on the radio asks an interesting question, “Have you worn out the world yet?” I think that Solomon did. The world held no meaning, no purpose, no satisfaction for him. I think another song might resonate with King Solomon if he had lived today – “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. It captures much of the same essence.
However, I do not believe that we have to end this little essay on a note of despair; Solomon didn’t. At the conclusion of his book we catch a glimmer of hope that Solomon finally found the one thing that would fill the “hole in his soul” – he comes to accept that faith in God is the only way to find personal meaning. He decides that life is brief and ultimately worthless without God.
In the end he concludes by advising his readers to focus on an eternal God instead of temporary pleasure. After years of attempting to fill the inner emptiness he felt as only a man as wealthy as a king could do, Solomon found that God alone could fill the inner recesses where the constant ache demanded to be filled. By focusing on God and the purposes for which God had created him to fulfill, Solomon assuaged the pain he felt and discovered the secret to absolute meaning.