Listening to our Elders

“Of laughter, I said, ‘It is senseless,’ and of joy, “What is there to do?” I surveyed my heart to restore my flesh with wine (my heart was still leading me with wisdom) and laid hold of stupidity until I saw that which is good for the sons of man — what they should do under heaven in the number of the days of their life.”

(Ecclesiastes 2:2-3)

First of all, some may be tempted to say, “What’s wrong with laughter? It’s not senseless.” No, laughter is not senseless if understood rightly. Many studies have been done that suggests people who laugh a lot are healthier and live longer than those who do not. As a pastor, I have also oftentimes used laughter to take the tension off of a difficult situation before people exploded at each other. Also, for people who have anxiety issues, my counsel has often been to “take a deep breath and smile as you let it out — laugh even.” And, often it works.

But this is not the kind of laughter of which Solomon speaks. Here he is focused on laughter for the state of laughter. The term that he uses here, שְׂחוֹק (sechoq), implies a level of derision. It is a laughter that laughs at the expense of another…and that, dear friends, is senseless.

And so he essentially goes on to ask, “What is there left to do to find joy?” He turns next to wine, to (literally) “lay hold of stupidity.” That indeed is the end of man when it comes to much drink. It matters not whether you have very little education or a great deal of it, whether you are a young man or an old one, or whether you are rich or poor. The stupidity that accompanies drunkenness is one and the same.

What I find particularly interesting about this statement is that Solomon insists that he is operating in wisdom when he experiments as he does. He wants us to know that even in the context of seeking fleshly gratification he has not left or abandoned the wisdom he had. It is a reminder to us that the whole man is always engaged in the things we do. Thus, if you have studied to gain wisdom, that wisdom is still present no matter how strongly you seek to suppress it. And for Solomon, it can be sure that his wisdom was not happy with his actions the “night before” given his likely hangover in the morning.

We live in a culture that always feels like it needs to reinvent the wheel. Parents tell their children, “Don’t do this it is a bad idea,” and children do it anyway. Not to mention breaking the Fifth Commandment, it is foolishness, for how can I build upon what someone else has learned if I need to relive their every mistake? A large part of growing in wisdom is learning to listen to those around you who have made mistakes and then to apply that counsel to similar situations in your own life. May we listen to and learn from Solomon, our guide…no…our preacher…Qoheleth.

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