Admittedly, there are two qualifiers to bear in mind before the rest of this article: 1) joy is distinct from and deeper than happy feelings; 2) God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness – “Be holy” (not happy) “for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). But remember that the Lord Jesus maintained absolute holiness while still obviously experiencing joy in His earthly life: “I delight to do Your will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8). Another Psalm of David’s adds, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
Ecclesiastes shows us that, although Solomon had wasted much in his mistaken pursuits of happiness under the sun, he did discover one source of joy. It is in accepting the lot that God has given us, and seeking to enjoy that lot as a gift from God. This contributes to a good life. Five times in Ecclesiastes, Solomon says something like this: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 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 5:18-19 ESV).
This is not the same as, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” because Solomon has brought God into the equation. That makes all the difference, and the rest of the book makes this clear. No, this is not merely carnal human reasoning – these are “words of the wise . . . [which are] given by one Shepherd” (12:11).
Solomon does not say a lot about God in Ecclesiastes, but he does reinforce a very important principle. The earlier you grasp it and appreciate it, the better: God is sovereign. He has given you a “lot” in life – that is, a portion, a sphere, a set of circumstances. You can resist His will, and live a frustrated life. You can complain about it, and give everyone around you a frustrating life. Or, you can ask for grace to accept it, to be thankful for it, and to make the most of it in the few days of the one, brief life that you have.
Life will be messed up at times, and there is a time for weeping and mourning (3:4). But life takes on a new dimension when you see the good hand of God in it. Be thankful to God for small blessings. Don’t live in the past. Enjoy the present as a gift from God and make the best of it. Living without God is vanity; don’t try it. The “abundant life” of which Christ Jesus spoke is a life lived from God and unto God, and that is where true pleasure and joy can be found.