Beethoven's 9th symphony, 'Ode to Joy,' borrows its original lyrics from Friedrich Schiller, the German poet who called his countrymen to hope and happiness with his patriotic poem in 1875.
"Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us raise our voices in more
Pleasing and more joyful sounds!"
All the world's creatures
Draw joy from nature's breast;
Both the good and the evil
Follow her rose-strewn path.
Beethoven's uplifting melody took the lyrics into the mainstream, and the classical genius made a proverbial top 20 hit out of Schillers' poem.
In 1907 Henry van Dyke wrote the lyrics of the hymn "Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee," to the self-same melody, which has now become a church standard around the world, and has in fact been refreshed in the hearts and minds of many Christians today with Brenton Brown's tasteful reworking of the hymn.
The opening stanza of 'Joyful, Joyful, we adore Thee,' goes as follows:
"Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee,
God of Glory , Lord of light,
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
opening to the sun above,
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away,
Giver of Immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day."
Although both Schiller's and Van Dyke's lyrics are celebratory in tone and tenor, their joy is drawn from contrasting sources. The former draws from nature's breast, the latter from the God of Glory. This is essentially the message of the book of Ecclesiastes. It contrasts the fate of those who chase after joy in created things rather than the Creator.
Solomon is like an actor in a one-man play, who plays two contrasting characters. The one is a secularist, who lives for the here and now, and who seeks joy in pleasure, wisdom, wealth, power and progress. He finds that the more he chases joy, the more illusive it is, like chasing the wind. He is miserable and regretful. I'd go so far as to say that he's morose.
If we stop there, Ecclesiastes will break our hearts, because there's a little (or a lot) of this character in each one of us. But if we see it as a goad given by One Shepherd, it will provoke us to joy. You see, Solomon's second character is a believer, who has eternity set in his heart, and who works, plays, eats, drinks and loves with eternity in mind. He finds ultimate joy in His Creator and can thus enjoy the good gifts of created things without allowing them to replace his true source of joy.
So many Christians are sure Jesus can save, but not so sure that He can satisfy.
Let's allow Ecclesiastes to goad us to repentance from the idols we chase after for joy, and let us return to Jesus, the Savior and Satisfier of our souls. As CS Lewis said, "We are halfhearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us. We are like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased."
Let's allow Ecclesiastes to be a Goad to Joy.