Saturday, October 13, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part IV

The Pointlessness of Philanthropy

If serving oneself is vain and fruitless, what about serving others? Surely it is in philanthropy—love toward our fellow man—that ultimate meaning and purpose are to be found. But Solomon tried this as well, turning from self-gratification through the pursuit of wisdom, pleasure, and power to the benefiting of others.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
But this, too, was to no avail. The reason is simple enough: if the pursuit of pleasure yielded vanity and void, what good is there in sharing these findings with others? A man may sincerely desire to bless his blind neighbor by offering to lead him by the hand, but if he himself is also blind, his efforts will yield no fruit (Luke 6:39). Kreeft writes, “How can the gift of vanity be any more than vain? … Once I find the summum bonum, it must be shared, yes, but I cannot share it before I find it.” Multiply zero by any other number, no matter how high, and the result will still be the same.

Another reason why altruism is pointless in the world of Ecclesiastes is that it is not only the one who seeks the good of others who is ignorant of the meaning of life, but so are those whom he seeks to help. “What good is it to hand down the mite of wisdom that I have attained if posterity is as foolish as I am?”

Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19).
The good works we perform for our fellow man, therefore, are not only filthy rags in God’s sight because of his surpassing holiness (Isa. 64:6; Tit. 3:5), but considered on their own merits, they are not even helpful or worthwhile in any ultimately meaningful sense.