As a person blessed with a number of acquaintances across America and locally with great wealth, I have found their attitude toward it determines the extent of their contentment and happiness. Some are miserable in spite of their wealth. Others conduct themselves with poise and joy.
The difference is the first group is still trying to find fulfillment in substance. The latter has found the spiritual key to life and consider themselves stewards of their wealth to be used for unselfish purposes. Though they have money this cadre is not concerned as Kipling said with fame, power, and money.
Our society has in general gravitated from being a society where people shop to live to one in which people live to shop. Legions seek to define themselves by what they purchase. Meaning is sought in the label they wear, the vehicle they drive and brand they eat. Those who seek meaning in material goods inevitably end up experiencing emptiness.
Shopping has become the number one leisure activity in America. For many, it occupies a role once fulfilled by faith. It has become an alternative source of meaning once based on a stable personal religious faith. Faith remains the foundation of fulfillment for countless persons, some with and some without material goods.
Russian literary giant Leo Tolstoy was transparent in telling of a time in his life when he was experiencing difficulty. He went for a walk in the depths of a great forest. There he found an old peasant sitting on a log, eating a meager lunch of black bread. Tolstoy tells of after sitting together for a while he said to the old man, “My friend, I have been looking for a happy man and I believe I have found him in you.” Then Tolstoy inquired, “Where did you find such happiness?”
In that moment, the old man became a tutor and the brilliant Tolstoy the student, as he mused: “Sir, I found it in the only place where you can ever find it in this troubled world. I found it in God. You find God, sir, and you will be alive, and vital and happy.”
Instant replay in part: “alive, and vital and happy.”
That in part was what Kipling was driving at.
The Old Testament King Solomon is estimated to have had an annual income of $20 million from just one source. In an autobiographical style he wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes in which he describes seven excessive experiments in which he sought fulfillment. He described the result of his experiments as “vanity of vanity,” or “emptiness of emptiness.” A modern translation would render that as it is like trying to fill a vacuum with a vacuum.
A thing can be learned personally or experientially from the experience of others. Solomon is a very good teacher. Wise is the person who will learn from the one often described as the wisest man who ever lived.
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church.