Reflections and Blog

Does King Solomon Preach “Carpe Diem”?

Carpe diem is a famous Latin phrase often translated to “seize the day.” The phrase originates from the 1st century BC Roman poet, Horace, and represents a call to enjoy the present moment without taking too much thought for the future. A carpe diem mindset is often associated with secular hedonism; the future is uncertain, and death will come eventually, so why not live it up now while we can? “YOLO” is a more recent version of this kind of carpe diem call. Intriguingly, though, as we even saw again in Sunday’s sermon, something like carpe diem thinking appears in Solomon’s counsel from Ecclesiastes. He, too, looks at death and the uncertainty of the future to repeatedly urge his listeners to enjoy and make full use of the present (Eccl 2:24-26; 3:12-13; 5:18-20; 9:7-10; 11:9-10). So is Solomon also a carpe diem preacher? Yes, but not quite in the way that carpe diem is understood by most people today.

One difference is that Solomon is unequivocally against the kind of grasping hedonism associated with carpe diem. Solomon’s life experiment with joy in Eccl 2:1-11 proves that living for mere personal accomplishments and for the pleasures of the world only leads to unprofitable frustration. Therefore, the type of enjoyment Solomon commends is not at all a striving for the “more” out there but a grateful reception of the gifts already provided by God (Eccl 2:24-26). Actually, Solomon’s viewpoint is likely closer to carpe diem‘s originally intended meaning, as the Latin phrase more accurately translates to “pluck the [ripe] day” rather than “seize the day.” In other words, carpe diem really refers to enjoying the gifts of each day presented to you rather than forcing each day to give you what you want.

Another difference has to do with Solomon’s theocentric foundation. Today, you can still find plenty of advocates of carpe diem, both in its crass and more thoughtful versions. The basis for their counsel is totally pragmatic: you’ll enjoy life more if you worry less about the past or future and just enjoy the opportunities of each day. After all, isn’t this present life all we’ve got? Solomon, however, while affirming the practical wisdom of a life making the most of the present, keeps his instruction rooted in God and God’s truth. This world is not all there is, so even man’s enjoyment of the now is subject to God’s holy, future assessment (Eccl 11:9). Moreover, man is only able to enjoy life because God enables man to do so as a gift (Eccl 2:24; 3:13; 5:19). Thus, “plucking the day,” is to be done in reverence and gratefulness to God, giving God glory even for the passing gifts we enjoy. Truly, much like with the Thanksgiving holiday, the world does not go far enough in its concept of carpe diem by refusing to acknowledge God in the enjoyment of each day (Rom 1:21). Christians should be different.

Eccl 3:12-13, I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God.

Questions to Consider:
1. How should Christians balance wise preparation for the future (and eternity) with Solomon’s holy version of carpe diem?
2. In what way do you embrace carpe diem? Is it in a worldly way or a godly way?
3. What is preventing you from humbly and gratefully enjoying God’s gifts to you right now?