A month ago, I decided that I would re-read The Great Gatsby before seeing the movie in theaters with my family. I read the book for the first time in probably six years, and once again I was glad that I had read it. The movie was solid, if not slightly underwhelming, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. Fast forward to this past Sunday morning at Ethos Church. Brandon spoke about King Solomon and Ecclesiastes 2. During the sermon, I was continually struck by the parallels between King Solomon and Jay Gatsby. I’m not the first and will not be the last to make these comparisons, but I hadn’t thought about it before that moment. I additionally drew comparisons between both of them and myself. I decided to skim through The Great Gatsby and read Ecclesiastes to see what I could find.
The Great Pursuit
King Solomon and Jay Gatsby were both once in a generation characters (pretending that Jay Gatsby was a real person). They pursued every avenue of potential happiness at their disposal. Both had seemingly unlimited amounts of money, women, power, entertainment, and fame, and for short periods of time, it made them happy. “My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil” -Ecclesiastes 2:10. “But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room‖” –The Great Gatsby Ch. 5. They enjoyed the ego boosts from everyone telling them how incredible they were. They loved eating the best foods, enjoying the best entertainment, spending time with the most amazing people, and having any and every physical good they could conjure up at a moments notice. All of these emotions were fleeting; however, as both quickly felt empty by the things that they thought would leave them fully satisfied.
The Great Letdown
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. -Ecclesiastes 2:11 (Underlining added for emphasis)
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning– So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. –The Great Gatsby Chapter 9 (Underlining added for emphasis)
People refer to this quote from Gatsby as if it is a positive metaphor, as it is pushing up to strive for our dreams. I might be misinterpreting it, but I view the quote quite differently. I see that Gatsby clawed, reached, stretched, and did everything is his power to obtain the green light. Ultimately, he never fully realized that the light was unobtainable, and that his efforts were like a boat beating against the current. Solomon had similar feelings in Ecclesiastes. The word “meaningless” is referenced 11 times in the NIV of Ecclesiastes 2. Instead of comparing his toils to a boat against the current, Solomon used an even more discouraging comparison when he said that it is like “chasing after the wind”, an clearly impossible task. They got there in different ways, but both men came to the same conclusion that things of this world will always leave you feeling empty.
While the stories of Jay Gatsby and King Solomon have many similarities, their endings could not be more different. Jay Gatsby continued to hunt for the ever-elusive longing in his heart, up until the day he was murdered in cold blood in his own back yard. Despite having everything he ever dreamed or wanted, he was always left wishing for something more. Solomon, on the other hand, finally realized that his earthly pursuits were meaningless. He came to know that Jesus was the only one who could truly satisfy the desires of his heart. “To the person who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness” -Ecclesiastes 2:26. He realized that GOD gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness. It does not say that man takes wisdom, knowledge, and happiness, yet we try take it for ourselves every day.
Joy in the Lord
We do not have to be multi-billionaires living lavish lives to relate to either of these two men. We have all pursued any number of pointless endeavors in hopes of capturing the desires of our hearts. Even when we achieve what we had so desperately longed for, it never quite fulfills us like we had hoped. We then move on to the next great thing thinking that maybe this will be the thing that finally gives me joy. If we (I) continue to live our lives like this, we will end up like Gatsby and never find true joy. All of this is not to say that God wants us to be miserable. I believe with all of my heart that God wants us to enjoy this life. He wants us to pursue our dreams and aspirations, but we need to keep everything in perspective. I pray that I, and all of us, can embrace King Solomon’s lesson that the only true fulfillment in life comes through Christ Jesus.