Deprivation of material things is real for a lot people we know, though the preacher of Ecclesiastes shows us deprivation of another kind that is rife around us. Some people are so poor that all they have in this life is many things. We ought not to be fooled. The brand new is the new old, and true enjoyment of things requires power from God who gives life to all. We can only truly enjoy having things, when they don’t have us.
Black Friday is coming up at the end of this month. It’s become the time of year when retailers do all they can to convince us to part with our cash for something new. It’s all very tempting because ordinary life can often feel like it needs freshening up. We crave an interruption to the same-old. So if you can afford it, unboxing a brand new TV or toaster or whatever, is up there with the greatest experiences the world celebrates. The problem though is that the idea of finding the new in the brand new is itself getting old.
I came across a video online recently which cleverly edits all of the keynote speeches the Apple Corporation have delivered at the launch of their latest iPhones over the last 10 years or so. At each presentation they claim the same things: that what they are selling is totally unlike anything ever seen before. If you watch it until the end, you begin to get the sense that the regular release of a new iPhone is becoming just as repetitive as the lives they’re designed to invigorate. I’m not having a dig at mobile phones – it could be any product by any company – although, if I had £1 for every time Apple said that they were making a really new product, I might even be able to afford one. So the newness of things is inherently out-dated and fleeting.
Honestly though, I love nice and new things and I don’t think they’re wrong. The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes shows that enjoying material things is not sinful in itself. This is something that some Christians might assume is the case. But possessions and the enjoyment of them is a gift from God:
‘Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil – this is the gift of God’ (Ecclesiastes 5:19)
We are allowed to have things, and are even encouraged to enjoy them. Proper enjoyment however requires God’s help. The preacher tells us that we also need God to give us power to enjoy things. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? If you cook me steak and chips or give me a brand new iPhone or a load of cash, I don’t instinctively think of praying, “Oh Lord please give me the power I need to enjoy these things”. Some things just feel naturally enjoyable. But this verse comes in the context of the whole book of Ecclesiastes, which presents us with the reality that enjoying things in this life is often fraught with difficulty and disappointment. True enjoyment of things is not as simple as we think it is.