Embracing this fact, according to “The Teacher/Quester/Preacher” in Ecclesiastes, will help to better guide us through this life as we know it.
A friend of mine prompted this topic when she gave me a copy of David Gibson’s book, “Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us To Live In Light Of The End”. According to Eugene Peterson, our problem is: “unlike animals, who seem quite content to simply be themselves, we humans are always looking for ways to be more than or other than what we find ourselves to be”. The Teacher’s task in Ecclesiastes is to expose these ways to the reader, by his own experiments with successes and failures (mostly failures). He wants to help us avoid the pitfalls and meaninglessness of “chasing after the wind”.
“Wisdom, pleasure, work, and possessions are the very bubbles we live in to insulate ourselves from reality.” – David Gibson
This reality is that we are all guaranteed of one thing–death. Throughout the book, Gibson challenges the reader to embrace this certainty, which acts as a needle to pop the bubbles listed above. It also does the following:
- Changes us from people who want to control life for gain into people who find deep joy in receiving life as a gift
- Puts an end to our repetitive quest for greatness
- Teaches us how to enjoy life by sharing it with others
- Allows us to hold everything we have in this world with open hands
As we receive life as a gift, we learn to have eyes that look for and enjoy the gifts God has given us. When we give someone a gift, we want them to enjoy it, rather than discovering it under their bed and untouched a year later. God is the same way. He wants us to delight in everything He gives us. He wants us to notice all things as gifts from His Hands, from a sunrise, to a friend, to a meal–and to relish in them!
As we put an end to our quest for gain, we stop storing the wrong kinds of treasures. We stop striving for greater wealth. We also stop trying to become so great. GK Chesterton says “There are two ways to get enough. One is to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less”. We can take pleasure in our lives to the extent that we do not desire so much stuff, nor seek to create a name for ourselves, as if that is really getting us anywhere.
What does it mean to “really live” in preparation for death? It’s realizing our joy comes from relationships– from giving rather than getting. It’s knowing that life is meant to be shared–our time, our talents, and our treasures. When we do this, living a life of generosity that is concerned more for others, rather than ourselves, we find happiness. When we go through life with our hands open, we can receive gifts with grateful hearts and we can give to others with the same joy.
I could end here, but there is one more verse I had not seen before that caught my eye for a very long time. Ecclesiastes 4:1 reminds us that God loves the oppressor as much as He loves the oppressed.
“Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors, there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.”
God tells us all over the Scriptures that He will comfort the afflicted. He seeks out those on the margins. He soothes the broken-hearted. But do you see the concern at the end? There is no one to comfort the oppressor. He needs comfort, too. This is why it precedes the “two are better than one” discourse: oppression causes isolation–for all parties involved.
We know God seeks out the broken-hearted because He is a God of justice. But He is also a God of mercy. Proverbs 11:21 tells us that He punishes those who do evil to others, but in Hebrews 12:6, we see that He also punishes everyone He accepts as a son. This means He also loves those who do evil and desires that they find Him as much as those who have been the victims.
In light of this, let us not become those who seek to control others in unjust ways. Let us love and forgive those who do. And let’s realize that anyone who is alone, needs someone to come alongside them.
“Ride a bike, see the Grand Canyon, go to the theater, learn to make music, visit the sick, care for the dying, cook a meal, feed the hungry, watch a film, read a book, laugh with some friends until it makes you cry, play football, run a marathon, snorkel in the ocean, listen to Mozart, ring your parents, write a letter, play with your kids, spend your money, learn a language, plant a church, start a school, speak about Christ, travel to somewhere you’ve never been, adopt a child, give away your fortune and then some, shape someone elses life by laying down your own.” – N.D. Wilson
Unsplash photos by Liana Young & Annie Spratt