I remember an interesting conversation I had with a friend back in college. To his comment that his aim in life was to become famous and achieve something substantial, I asked how that would really matter in light of the fact that he would one day die. He responded by saying that he would be satisfied if somehow his memory would linger in the minds of the masses. In other words, to become a legend perhaps would be a meaningful exercise. But a legend primarily adds cheer and glamour to the lives of others rather than to his own life.
Think of Alexander the Great. Everyone reads of his exploits and enjoys the stories of his valor and genius. They share in his adventures and dreams as they read of his conquests. Perhaps Greeks might take national pride in him. Young men might draw inspiration from him. Military generals might have lessons to learn from him. But for Alexander himself, take a look at his life! He drove himself with his desire for immortality and others with his charisma to conquer half the world. But his journey was anything but easy. And at the end of it, realizing he could advance and conquer no more, forced to retreat, his life was cut short by an illness when he was still young. His son was likely butchered and his empire parceled out to his four generals. The Greek empire would never be as strong and big as it was with him and neither he nor anyone in his family would enjoy the reward of his labor. Yes, he did become a legend, with others benefiting from his legendary status, but in the process gained nothing himself. How meaningless!
The basic issue that cuts away at any attempt to reconcile life’s pursuits with meaning is the reality of death. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes talks of other things like the irony of hoarding wealth to pass it on to someone else, the sorrow rather than the anticipated enlightenment that comes with wisdom, the failure of justice in the warped world we live in and so on. But the crux of the issue is the fact that we cannot sustain the desire for immortality in the face of death.
‘3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. 4 Anyone who is among the living has hope–even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun’ (Eccles 9).
Meaning can be rediscovered only when man finds the means to overcome the finiteness imposed on him by death. And so, the Teacher concludes, ‘13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil’ (Eccles 12). It is only when man connects to God and in the context of a relationship with God, submits to him and obeys him that meaningfulness arrives. This is taken to a completion in the work of Christ on the cross where he laid down his life for men so that whoever believes should not perish when the body dies but enter into eternal life. Death stands vanquished on the cross for all who believe and identify with the crucified Christ. And so Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12) is really a promise that ushers man into a life of meaning and satisfaction.
- EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS-2
- FROM DESPERATION TO HOPE