“For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?” Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 (NRSV)
Ecclesiastes can be a pretty gloomy book, until one understands the perspective from which it was written.
For the sake of argument I’m going to assume that Solomon was the Teacher of Ecclesiastes- the guy who wrote the book. Now Solomon was King David’s son- a guy who pretty much had everything under the sun. Even if he didn’t already have it, (on that rare occasion) he could get it.
Solomon was legendary for his wisdom, but he was also legendary for his many wives and concubines, as well as for the wealth and opulence that surrounded him. If money could have ever bought happiness, Solomon would have been the guy who would have been able to buy his way happy. He tried. Yet as he got older he realized that material things don’t really lead to satisfaction, and that eventually no matter what you have or what you accomplish, everyone grows old and dies just like the animals. It’s easy to be convinced that life is pointless when all we see is the old routine of you’re born, you grow up, you get old, you die. On the surface sometimes it’s hard to see the purpose of muddling through the physical realities of life. It’s easy to get worn out and jaded and reduce the business of living to just waiting in line to get on the worm food express.
Mortality is reality. Physical bodies die no matter how much exercise one does or how healthy one’s diet is. Physical death is hardwired into humanity.
“The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10 (NRSV)
Solomon asked the same questions that people today are still asking: “What is my purpose?” “Why am I here?” “What will fulfill me and make me happy?”
It’s been said that money can’t buy happiness, just the misery that one likes the best. I’d like to have the privilege to test that theory for my own curiosity (wink-wink) and I’ll heartily agree that poverty adds to misery. But no matter how much money or how many material things one has, the day will come when those things won’t mean anything because that tiny electrical spark that keeps one’s heart beating and the synapses of one’s brain communicating WILL go out.
“And he (Jesus) said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Luke 12:15-21 (NRSV)
It doesn’t matter how much stuff you have when the worms are digging in on your liver and other assorted bodily organs. Our bodies came from dust, and sooner or later our bodies, in one way or another, are going to be dust again.
What does really matter is knowing that even though worms are going to munch on these physical bodies, we will see God. Jesus will ask us the question He asked of Simon Peter, “Who do you think I am?”
With that in mind, whose purpose are we serving? Who do we say Jesus is, and more importantly, are we living- now- in a way that displays that we understand Who He is? Are we willing to give up those things that cloud the waters and keep us from a fuller relationship with Him? Are we willing to repent- to turn away from- the things we know fail to please God?
Do we really mean it when we say we follow Christ? More importantly, do we trust that He does have a purpose for us above simply being born, growing up, growing old, and becoming fertilizer?
I believe that if we ask Him, and if we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit, we can discover the purpose for which we were created. I believe that we are invited to turn from the things that fail to bring life, and find satisfaction and abundant life in God.