Some people have the mistaken idea that living for God and being happy are mutually exclusive, as if God doesn’t want us to have any joy here under the sun. 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 ye holy” (not happy) “for I am holy” (1Peter 1:16). The Lord Jesus was holy, yet still evidently had pleasure in His earthly life: “I delight to do Thy will, O My God” (Psa 40:8). Another Psalm of David’s adds, “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart,” (Psa 37:4).
Ecclesiastes shows us that although Solomon had wasted much in his mistaken pursuits of happiness under the sun, he did discover a source of joy. It is in accepting the lot 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” (Ecc 5:18-19 ESV).
This is not the same as, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” because Solomon brought God into the equation. This 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 from one Shepherd” (Ecc 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 you have.
Life will be messed up at times, and there is a time for weeping and mourning (Ecc 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 only there can true pleasure and joy be found.