Vanity at Fashion Island (Ecclesiastes 2:1–11)


When I’m on vacation in California, I like to while away the hours at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. Not because of the fashion, mind you; I cannot afford the clothes most of the stores sell. No, I like to grab a Venti Chai Latte from Starbucks followed by book browsing at Barnes and Noble and lunch at La Salsa, capped off with a movie at the Big Edwards, which advertises itself “the largest screen west of the Mississippi.” If I am able to do all that when I visit California, I consider the trip to be a huge success.

I also like to people watch at Fashion Island. With stores such as Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus and At Ease—not to mention a parking lot filled with Mercedes and Lexi—Fashion Island attracts a clientele whose pocket change probably exceeds my annual salary. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the rich are different, which they are of course, and therefore oh so fun to watch.

Now, you might wonder why I am telling you about my fascination with Fashion Island in a daily devotional. Well, it is because I cannot help but think of the place when I read Ecclesiastes 2:1–11.[1] Qoheleth, the author of the book, describes his lifestyle, which to my mind, seems a lot like that of the people who can afford to shop there. It is a life devoted to pleasure and beauty and wealth and accomplishment.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, by the way. God created us with bodies capable of much pleasure. He made a beautiful world and delights when we also make beautiful things in it. One of the consistent themes in wisdom literature such as Ecclesiastes and Proverbs is that those who do God’s will experience material bounty and blessing. And God designed humankind to be inventive workers who accomplish great things. Notice what Qoheleth writes in verse 10: “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.” Qoheleth feels no guilt for working hard, earning much, and spending it on life’s pleasures. Neither should we—as long as, like him, we remember to be guided by God’s wisdom.

And yet, having worked so hard and earned so much and experienced so many pleasures, Qoheleth still is not satisfied. Laughter is madness, pleasure is useless, hard work is “vanity and a striving after wind” (2:11). They are hebel: ephemeral and unreliable. I think about my day off and see the truth of what Qoheleth says: the coffee gets cold, the pages of books yellow with age, fashions change and clothes wear out, food rots, one week’s movie blockbuster is the next week’s “has been” show.

Is it good, then, to work hard and buy stuff? Of course. But life can be better. Centuries after Qoheleth wrote, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19, 20).

Fashion Island is good, at least on vacations. Heaven is best; it lasts forever. We will be wise if we seek our pleasures there.

 

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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