“You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes” Haggai 1:6 (NASB)
The British first formally instituted the position of poet laureate. In the United States, individual states can have a poet laureate and the President of the United States names such for the country. According to the Library of Congress website, the qualifications to come a state’s poet laureate are “based upon a poet’s written body of work, whose subject matter is often specific to the state.”
Political leaders and bodies pick writers who address the perceived needs of the time. The great speeches of history have addressed the moment- whether it be rallying the country in times of strife or moving people to be their better angels.
The Bible does not have just great writing, it has profound writing. God is the truth giver and provides it via great beauty, great art. Haggai 1:6 is timeless poetry. Unlike other great works of art which often need to be put in historical context, the Bible speaks of eternal truths. It speaks to the condition of humans that cuts across all races, ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic and educational levels, gender, and geographic locations. Thus, unlike poet laureates chosen by a state or country, the poetry in the Bible is not limited to a specific people, place, or time.
In this verse, it speaks of people having but still unsatisfied. When people get sudden fame and riches, some fall into despair and other self-destructive behavior such as drug addiction. Some are drawn to cults and other methods of finding some structure or meaning to their lives. When asked why they have fallen into a such a state, they often say it was “The Success.” This can seem puzzling. What could be wrong with having positive acclaim, financial bounty, and the laudation of others including many willing romantic partners (people seem to think that famous or rich people are automatically more attractive!)? For many in the arts, sports, or business, this is what they have always wanted, what they have worked hard to achieve. The musician who works steady but with unpredictable and low wages has a series of hit songs that makes her rich and famous. They have achieved what they always thought would make them happy. During the lean years, they relied on the hope that one day their music would be recognized and then they would be able to lead a good life.
During the worldwide Great Recession of 2007-2009, markets plunged. The US Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded in its 2011 report that one of the causes was too many financial firms acting irresponsibly and taking on too much risk. Another was excessive borrowing by households and major Wall Street firms. In the case of major financial firms, the curiosity here is that many of the worst players were already rich. They had plenty of money not just for their needs but for perks, luxury. Many of the downright fraudulent persons were considered financial titans or wizards. A few even went to prison because of their schemes. Why commit fraud or behave recklessly to gain even more money when you already have plenty?
In both cases of rise of fame and fortune and the greed ridden financial power players, they had what they always wanted. Yet, they were not satisfied. They still hungered, they still thirst. They had set up an achievement as a false god. It was, alone, going to bring them happiness, joy. But false gods give only superficial needs, not the deep yearnings in the soul of humans. Once you have achieved all that you said would make you happy and you are still not, what can one do? One response is to say “I said a needed just X but what I really need is Y and Z. Surely when I get to Y and Z, then I will be content.” This is what happens when someone already beyond wealthy must have more.
So far, I have just talked about those who would be considered “on top” But what about the non- famous, non-wealthy? Are we also not satisfied with what we have? The United States, Europe, and other so called “developed” nations have among the highest standards of living in the world. Yet, these countries also have rampant drug abuse and addiction, and considerable suicide rates. The United States has one the highest levels of illegal drug use in the world, and the United Kingdom does not fall much behind. Many are in excessive debt, not necessarily for needs but for those things they want that they think will make them happy.
Wanting material goods is not evil, wanting enough money for comfort and joys is not evil, wanting to be well known for your art is not evil. It is not fame, material goods, or money but the idolization of fame, material goods, and money that is the problem. It is, as said before, setting up other things as false gods.
An appreciation of what God has provided you in one’s everyday life is what can bring true peace, true joy. Am I saying that a person in poverty should not want to be in poverty? No. But I am saying that a person that many would consider in poverty can be fuller of God’s love and joy than a person who is considered a financial success. Happiness, is, at many levels, a choice. Again, not happy with every aspect of your life, but happy in trust and union with God. God does not promise that all your material needs will be met, that you will always have a love in your life, that you will not know great pain, and that you will achieve your definition of success in your career.
As a speech-language pathologist, I have worked in nursing homes. There have been residents who from the outside have nothing to be thankful for, nothing to be happy about in their lives. They have mobility restrictions, multiple health complications, vision impairments, and/or difficulty taking care of their basic needs such as eating or bathing. For some when I asked them how they were they would say statements such as “I am grateful that God woke me up this morning, that there are people who take care of me, and that I have family that loves me” By many people’s definition, they have “sown little, eaten little, drank little, are clothed little, and have little money” But they do not hunger, do not thirst, and do not feel ungrateful for what blessings they have; they are instead filled with a relationship with God and a deep spiritual life.
God is available for us all, no matter what our specific circumstances are. The deep hunger that humans feel is really a hunger for a relationship with God. People think that hunger can be satisfied entirely by other means. But His hand of love and fellowship is there, God is everywhere.