I recently returned back to the UK to attend the funeral of my 25 year old sister Katy. It was a huge shock to learn of her passing. With a legal career, a potentially imminent marriage and everything to live for, she was killed in a road collision, two days into a holiday in Bali.
Katy had some lovely, confident, upwardly mobile friends who spoke well of her at the funeral. The message that came across in the many tributes was of one who worked hard and certainly played hard, but who was utterly unprepared for death.
It reminded me of the strange book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes or The preacher. This book, part of the wisdom genre in the Bible, articulates in ostensibly pessimistic terms, the brevity of life.
“ . . . Meaningless, Meaningless, says the preacher, all is meaningless. . . What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:1, 2:22)
We want to be happy and we do not want to consider the brevity of life and the certainty of death. We refuse to think about these things by filling our lives with other things.
Our generation, like no other before, have given ourselves wholesale to a repertoire of diversions that distract us from addressing ultimate questions about our mortality. We are submerged beneath an abundance of trivia in our fully wired, always connected, completely digitized world of social media and limitless sources of entertainment.
In his first two chapters, the writer of Ecclesiastes bursts the bubbles of pleasure and profit, materialism and laughter- even education. The sharpness of death pierces all our pretensions of ultimate happiness through these means.
But, the message of the book is not ultimately negative. The message is that the reality of death is meant to show us how to live. The source of our ultimate enjoyment is God. God is the one who ‘ gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness (2:26) When we know that that gift is not a stepping stone to greater things, we realize we are not meant to master our destiny or achieve ultimate gain through our careers. We are dependent creatures made for relationship with our creator.
Terry Pratchet, recently wrote an article for the Times in which he said: ‘ Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.’ This is why the conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes exhorts the young person:
“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.’” (12:1)
My certain death must invigorate my current life. Putting one foot in the grave is the way to plant the other in the path of life. Enjoyment is the gift of God and I am commanded in this book to enjoy God’s world. I enjoy it most fully when I come to know Him and come to realise that the gospel ultimately deals with death as Jesus absorbs the sting of it in my place.