Tiger Woods, Robert Smith of the Cure, and Ecclesiastes

Everyone is interested in Tiger Woods and his failures. Its fascinating to us to see someone who seems to have it all fail. He has a very successful career in golf at a young age, a supermodel wife, and a very positive image, yet he failed. He wanted what he didn’t have. He was bored with his life somehow. There is something encouraging to me about seeing someone who apparently has everything not be satisfied. Why? Because I don’t have everything, but if I can know that those who do have everything still aren’t satisfied, then I can be more assured that having everything isn’t what actually makes you happy. I mean, if someone who has it all can be unsatisfied, then satisfaction obviously comes from something other than having ‘it all’.

Today in spin class, our instructor was playing an old song by “Faith no more” entitled “WHAT IS IT?” which as far as I can tell is about the constant striving for whatever it is that one thinks will satisfy. At one point the song says, “You want it all but you can’t have it.  It’s in your face but you can’t grab it” and the constant refrain is “What is it?  What is it?”– because we strive for the “it” that will satisfy, but no one thing seems to do it.   The frustration of not being able to get “it” or to get “it all”  is common to many of us.  But then there is my more favorite song by the Cure called “Its never Enough” and the lyrics also seem to indicate the perpetual striving to achieve satisfaction which can never be found:

however much i push it down
it’s never enough
however much i push it around
it’s never enough
however much i make it out
it’s never enough
never enough
however much i do

however big i ever feel
it’s never enough
whatever i do to make it real
it’s never enough
in any way i try to speak
it’s never enough
never enough
however much i try to speak
it’s never enough

however much i’m falling down
it’s never enough
however much i’m falling out
it’s never enough
whatever smile i smile the most
it’s never enough
never enough
however i smile
i smile the most

so let me hold it up
just one more go
holding it up for just once more
one more time to fill it up
one more time to kill
but whatever i do
it’s never enough
it’s never enough

it’s never enough

(you should hear the song, its better than reading the lyrics obviously: http://popup.lala.com/popup/360569496708213378 )

As usual, my favorite British songwriter from the Cure, Robert Smith, seems to be tearing a page out of Ecclesiastes again (and again and again).  It doesn’t matter what we pursue on this earth, or how much we pursue it, it will not be enough.

For example, Ecclesiastes 1 says:
1 The words of the Teacher, [a] son of David, king in Jerusalem:
2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

3 What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?

4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.

5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.

6 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.

8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

11 There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.

If that wasn’t depressing enough, of course Ecclesiastes 2 just reaffirms chapter 1:

4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem [a] as well—the delights of the heart of man. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.

11 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.

Under the sun (in this world) whatever we toil for will be meaningless, in some sense.  It will all be chasing after wind, which is pointless and laughable.  This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t strive.  Christians ARE called to do whatever we do with all our heart ‘as unto God’.  The difference, according to ecclesiastes anyway (not to Robert SMith of course) is God. 

This passage, and the ‘striving after “IT”‘  often reminds me of Goethe’s Faust, where Faust strives to find satisfaction in this life– trying love, money, and all the various pursuits of life until building dikes to get the land back from the sea ends up bringing him satisfaction, and although he had made a pact with the devil, God sends his angels to rescue Faust since he strove so strongly and valiantly to achieve something. The moral seems to be summed up in Act V: “He who strives on and lives to strive/ Can earn redemption still” (V, 11936–7).

Although salvation doesn’t come through striving to ‘be all you can be’ there does seem to be some scriptural support for the notion that God loves people who strive to make more out of their life in the parable of the servants given talents where the one who just buries his instead of multiplying it is essentially cursed and damned. (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28)  Of course far too many of us live vapid self indulgent lives wasting them away on all kind of mundane futile ridiculous time wasting pursuits and we need to take account and think about how we are spending our lives and hours.  For most of us in life, including Tiger, life is mostly striving, and few if any of us experience angels bringing us up to heaven in reward for our valiant efforts to drink up the sea, as Nietzsche says in his famous Parable of a Madman (Thus Spake Zarathustra):

How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

We live these lives of ours either as atheists or as theists. When we live as Christian theists, we submit to God and live our lives for him. When we live as atheists, we live as though God is dead. But when we live as though God is not, we find sometimes (often) that our worlds crumble apart, and dissipate.  I live my life as an atheist sometimes, and a theist others.  Sometimes I live as though God is not.  Sometimes I live as though God is.  I TRY to live in faith, by faith, with faith, but I do not always succeed.  Sometimes I’d rather be god than trust God.

Even Tigers that have it all– all the power, the rewards of success, and the power to achieve greatness can and usually will fail, because of this desire to have it all. Adam and Eve were given paradise and doubting the God who gave them that, they turned their own way to drink up the sea with infinite knowledge, and the result was damnation and seperation from life.

We want it all, but we can’t have it. When I want it all, I want to be God instead of Human, and it seems like that God-project fails every single time. It was Sartre who said that our lives are a God-project– a project to become something eternally stable and not fragile, finite, changing. We enlist others in our service to do this by getting them to project upon us the image we want to achieve. Perception is, in this sense, everything, and if people think I am a God I am. The ironic problem, Sartre realized, was other people– who we are is in some sense made up by others perceptions and this is why others are a threat. Right now all the various perceptions of others are chipping away at the godlike status of Tiger. And there is very little he can do to control that.

The problem is that no matter how much we achieve, we still think that having it all will bring satisfaction. Even Tigers think that. But, as the wisdom of Robert Smith and Ecclesiastes show us, no matter how much we get, it will never be enough.     Better to let God be God.       -andy gustafson

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2 responses to “Tiger Woods, Robert Smith of the Cure, and Ecclesiastes

  1. I am often brought to the Bible passage “Be Perfect as your Father in Heaven is Perfect” when I am confronted with my struggle of being god. We are to seek perfection and in that sense be God-like, but I know there is a huge difference when what I seek is my self and not Self. I must die to live and I must decrease so He can increase are also on my mind when trying to truly live and strive for perfection, but to do so with my eyes fixed on God.

    Thanks for another great read and reflection, Andy.

  2. Why bring Christianity into this philosophical discussion?

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