When I was a young adult attending college in Southern California, I remember being somewhat haunted by one of the songs that was an album track by Sugar Ray on their self-titled fourth album, a song called “Under The Sun.” The song itself is a song about memory, about being reminded of childhood, and the innocence of youth and its passing and temporary nature. I’m not sure that Mark McGrath is familiar with the book of Ecclesiastes, for it seems that his reference to growing up under the sun is itself a literal statement of having grown up in sunny Southern California, rather than being connected to Solomon’s having bounded his own intensely realistic but not pessimistic view of reality of a life lived under the sun in Ecclesiastes . Even so, even if the connection between the two was not intentional on the part of McGrath and his bandmates in Sugar Ray, the connection is nevertheless a meaningful one, because both Solomon’s references to growing up under the sun and Sugar Ray’s are dealing with the temporary and evanescent way that we live our lives as a vapor that quickly dries up in the sun. Let us therefore reflect at least a little bit on that temporary nature of our lives, of youth, and of what haunts us about these things.
Sugar Ray as a band was more than usually concerned about the temporary nature of fame and popularity, and they were right to be. “Under The Sun” itself references the sort of music that the members of the band grew up enjoying, reflecting upon the fact that this music, although immensely influential to them, seems to have been largely forgotten by many in the coming years before their own adulthood. Likewise, Sugar Ray was painfully aware of their own temporary celebrity status and more than most people do, they reflected on it over and over again. Their first song, “Fly,” was a fluke hit from the second album of a band that had previously been a bit of a nu-metal act that combined catchy pop hooks with some reggae flow and became a massive chart hit, prompting the band to a radical change in musical direction from the somewhat anonymous and not very catchy music they had previously sung. Their second album was titled 14:59, as they felt that their fifteen minutes of initial fame were over. That album, rather than being the start of a downward spiral of declining success, managed to spawn three top 40 hits in “Every Morning,” “Someday,” and “Falls Apart,” most of which are reflective pop-rock songs themselves musing on the future, as well as the brokenness of the past. Their fourth album, which went platinum, mined the same territory as previously. This was a band that never seemed to shake their own ghosts, and was continually reflective both in the fact that the past was gone but not yet gotten over and that present glory and success would surely fade away in time. And when it faded away, the band seems not to have been overly troubled, making easy-going music for their remaining fans, and having a great deal of lasting success by not holding on to fame desperately, as is the manner of some.
While there is much that could be said about Solomon as an early experimental scientist, using himself and his own life as a sort of test case in how to live life, it is worthwhile to note that Ecclesiastes is framed by looking at life under the sun. In Solomon’s discussion of human life, this statement is roughly equivalent to his statement of life lived under heaven, likely referring to the first heaven, namely our atmosphere. Just looking at Solomon’s life, it is clear that anything that happens under the sun is going to be temporary and ephemeral, not lasting: Solomon’s wisdom–wasted on bad decisions to have 700 wives and 300 concubines and to set up shrines for their ungodly worship, Solomon’s power–frittered away after his death when Israel divided and he was replaced by incompetent and feuding successor kingdoms, Solomon’s great name and reputation–vanished to the point where historians can still, incredibly, wonder if he ever even existed in the first place because his empire was so short-lived. So yes, it is clear that Solomon was definitely someone who well understood and modeled the temporary nature of life. He enjoyed his intellect and the fruits of a fortunate birth and God’s blessing and the fruits of that, except in the writings preserved in the Bible, barely outlasted his life. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy right there.
That ought to be a lesson for all of us. All that we seek in this world is not lasting. We cannot defend our reputation after our death, and so whatever we have said or done in our life is likely to be twisted by people for their own purposes, without any concern for the truth and simply for what they can gain out of it. Nothing that we get on this earth will be lasting. We could build massive pyramids to ourselves only to have them swallowed in sand or in resurgent rain forests or flooded off the coast with rising oceans. We could build monuments to ourselves only to have the languages we write in be lost or our own inscriptions erased by those who come after us. We could write of our deeds in books and texts only to have those texts destroyed by jealous successors or the ravages of time. There is nothing that we can do to ensure that we or our deeds will be remembered–everything we could try would depend both on chance as well as on other people. And so it is entirely appropriate that Sugar Ray and Solomon would both lament that while we may enjoy our lives for a time under the sun, all too quickly that time will be over.
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