Monday, May 13, 2013

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Meaningless! Ecclesiastes vs. My Permanent Mid-Life Crisis


If you read this blog regularly, you probably know my story.  That is, my journey from death to life in Christ.

So it won't surprise you to learn that I’m new to reading the Bible.  This means I'd never read most of it, including the entire Book of Ecclesiastes -- that is, until just recently.  I must admit ... I was initially shocked and confused by its starkly negative tone!

Truly, when I thought of this book, the only thing that readily came to mind was chapter 3: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…”  Honestly, this was the only part I knew.

But a Bible-reading plan is pushing me into uncharted territory, so a couple of weeks back I found myself starting into Chapter 1 of this cryptic text.  I didn't get very far. Verse 2 stopped me cold:
Meaningless!  Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless. 
Great.  This had to be the most confusing Bible verse I had ever read (and that's saying something).  I pressed on, finishing the first chapter.  It wasn't getting any better.  Really?  This was supposed to be "wisdom"?  Why did I have to read this just before bed?

But to fully grasp the depths of my confusion, I need to take you back ...

Most of my life was characterized by a search for truth -- the meaning of my existence.  Finally, joyfully, I had come to believe in the Bible as Truth.  Now here was this ... this "Teacher" telling me that it's all “a chasing after the wind”.

How was I supposed to feel about that?  Or this:
Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun – all your meaningless days.  For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. (Ecclesiastes 9:9-10)
I didn’t like where this was going, so I stopped reading.  I didn’t know what possible lesson I could learn from these depressing passages.  Fortunately, I wasn't reading alone.  I was accountable, and had the help of someone who'd been there before. My mentor gave me both encouragement and context, which helped me to plunge back in.

In fact, it helped me learn to love, love, LOVE this book!  One lesson stood out for me:

We all have the same destiny.  
We all live our lives here on earth, 
and we will all die.

For as long as I can remember I'd been terrified of dying. I feared I would simply vanish from this earth as if I'd never been here, with no real legacy to leave behind.  I looked at others' accomplishments to measure mine, to see if my life had any value.  It pained me to think about how far behind I was, especially when I compared myself with those whom I looked up to.

Or perhaps "envied" is a better word:
And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor.  This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecc. 4:4)
Frankly, I seemed to be stuck in a permanent mid-life crisis.  I was indeed "chasing after the wind."

Ecclesiastes brought it all home to me.  The "Teacher" taught me that I can live ANY life I want to:  “Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.  Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see…”  But I MUST understand that “… for all these things God will bring you to judgment.” (Ecc. 11: 9-10).

For most of my life, I have been searching and fearing, but never understanding what it was that I needed to do.  Then I read the last two verses of Ecclesiastes, and there it all was:

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of ALL mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is GOOD
or EVIL.
(Ecc. 12:13-14)

I will die.  We will all die someday.  All we’ve done to make ourselves known in this world will eventually disappear.  Who we are in the memories of others will fade away.  I’ve always had an issue with death because I didn’t think I'd done enough to be remembered.  That’s all meaningless.  I know now.  As Rich Mullins said: "... if my life is motivated by my ambition to leave a legacy, what I'll probably leave as a legacy is ambition."

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes taught me that I must move forward from here, to do what will truly matter: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”  This is MY duty.  It is the only one with eternal value.

I never understood before when my Christian friends said to me that they were “ready to die”.  It simply made no sense to me before.  But now I find I am finally content in knowing this simple truth: I am a child of God, and I am saved by His grace.

I can say it now:  I am ready to die ... which means now I can truly live.


"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." 
(Philippians 1:21)

3 comments:

  1. Yes, I recall my first encounter with this passage. A preacher claimed Solomon did not speak for God here, because he was so sin damaged. No, that can't be right, I thought...

    Then I realized that Solomon speaks to several good things in life, for which there is no improvement.

    Man suffers from a fatal self-importance. Ecclesiastes is the antidote. Love God, enjoy His Providential provision and your wife. Live well by faith.

    With the fulfillment of the Cross and Christ's Resurrection, we know life is far more important, vanity and trouble notwithstanding. The church--the extended body of Christ--is both the ends and the means of God's work in the world. The Great Commission means that no areas of life are unimportant, but it is all about Jesus, and not us.

    The American Puritan set a fine example--hand to the plow, eye on heaven.

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  2. I love it--I love it--I love it!!!!!! And, if it makes me so happy to read such a wonderful testimony, I can only imagine Jesus' joy and excitement at the new level of freedom that Sharon has discovered. What a great addendum to the Born Again Series!!!

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  3. "I can say it now: I am ready to die ... which means now I can truly live." What a powerful conclusion you've reached. This is a life-changing message I will share with many. Thank you so much.

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