Ecclesiastes 12:1, 6-7
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them…’
Remember him–before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
In Christianity for Modern Pagans, a commentary on Blaise Pascal’s meditative Pensees, Peter Kreeft notes a connection Pascal made between our realization that death might come at any moment and the way that we live our lives:
“Our life in the world must vary according to these different assumptions:
- If it is certain that we shall always be here…
- If it is uncertain whether we shall always be here or not…
- If it is certain that we shall not always be here, but if we are sure of being here for a long time…
- If it is certain we shall not be here for a long time, and uncertain whether we shall be here even one hour.
This last assumption is ours.”
You might say that each assumption is progressively closer to truth.
The imminence of death has the ability to bring us back to our senses. Dr. Johnson, the famous English writer of the 1700s, observed, “I know of no thought that so wonderfully clarifies the mind as the thought that I shall hang tomorrow morning.” When the doctor gives you only so much time to live, or you are otherwise faced with your mortality, priorities become somehow easier to put in order.
Kreeft says this about Pascal’s words: “Suddenly you stop filling up the boob tube of your consciousness with trivia. Death turns your habitual perspective upside down–that is, really right side up. Tiny things like economics, and technology, and politics, no longer loom large, and enormous things like religion and morality, no longer seem thin and far away.”
We might add enormous things like the gospel, and immortality.
As he brings his book to a close, the writer of Ecclesiastes emphatically and poetically impresses the nearness of death on us and importance of using the time we now have to know God’s grace. The fact that we all die stands behind the author’s conclusion that everything is meaningless, or vanity. Knowing the God who created us, who redeemed us from our sin, and who will receive our spirits when our bodies return to the dust is the solution to the problem.
Kreeft concludes, “In a word, death removes ‘vanity.” Well, almost right. Death makes clear the problem. Jesus’ promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” removes vanity. Not only does the resurrection promise that death is not our end, it gives meaning and motivation to the life we live right now.
That was the Apostle Paul’s conclusion: “Therefore…,” in light of the certainty that Jesus rose and so will we, “…stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).