Thursday, October 29, 2009

All is Vanity?

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. [2] Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. [3] What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? ( Eccles. 1:1-3 (ESV)
Ecclesiastes is a unique book among those of the Bible. Solomon sees that death has robbed life of meaning and purpose, all is vanity, the same event happens to the wise as it does the fool, death. (Eccl. 2:14) Death looms over all of life, mocking the people of this world with the question “what is the point?” In Ecclesiastes Solomon seeks to find the answer to that question. Unique among the philosophers and religions of the world he answers “vanity.” Solomon admits that life is vanity, there is no point.
Of course, if death didn’t loom over life with this mocking question, we wouldn’t care about meaning or purpose. We would be too busy enjoying life. This was God’s purpose for creating us in the first place, that we would enjoy life, enjoy His creation. He set our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the garden where they were to be his gardeners, join in the activity of creating, gardening, and caring for his creation, and the creations in his creation. In my heart of hearts I do believe that this is still God’s will for our lives, that we enjoy life, and be stewards of his creation. But death has robbed life of much meaning and purpose. IF death happens, as it does for all of us, then life is far from purpose driven, but pointless. Solomon is even so blunt as to answer that it may be better not to have lived at all, and this long before Queen penned the lyrics to ”Bohemian Rhapsody.” But God has a much better answer to death in his son Jesus Christ who died that we would have eternal life.
God’s answer to death is the death of his son Jesus Christ on the cross, as a satisfaction for our sins, the wages of which is death. In Jesus Christ we have eternal life in the forgiveness of sins. Death no longer holds any victory over the Christian to mockingly ask “what is the point?” “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:54-58 (ESV) So the Christian can answer quite bluntly in the face of death, ”you’re right there is not point. there is only life, and that to be enjoyed.” For we know that we do not have to answer death, but only God, who has forgiven our sins, and secured our life in Christ.
Other philosophers and religions have tried to give other answers to this question. They try to find reason to live, a purpose for life in something other than Christ. It is telling that one of the most popular books of the last decade was a “Purpose Driven Life.” To this day I have found no one who has read the book that could honestly answer the question as to what the purpose for their life was. Many though like to think of this earthly life as a test in preparation for a life to come. Perhaps this is the primary assumption behind all religions of the world. Inevitably law in some way shape or form becomes the answer guide to this test. It is assumed that since life ends, there must be some purpose to living it, and perhaps if we live it right we will be able to attain some form of eternal life. On the flip side of this is cosmic torture for those who fail the test. The test may vary from philosophy to philosophy, and religion to religion, but the idea that life is a test seems to be all but universal. In one way or another the test reflects the challenge of the law, God’s law written on our heart, to live a perfect life and achieve holiness, sometimes through working on our conduct, at others through philosophical speculation, or to achieve a mystical experience. Most religions carve out a path that incorporates all three of these to some extent. The problem is that perfection is always out of reach. We are sinners, and remain so, and death claims us all one way or another. Solomon is adamant, we achieve nothing. All is vanity. “The wise die the same as a fool.” (Eccles. 2:17) If life is a test we all failed, for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.
A careful reading of God’s word in the Bible will spell out though, that life is not a test. It was never meant to be a test, nor is it now. Life is. Life is an end in itself. This is what God created it to be, and that is what he redeemed it to be through the death of his son who lived a perfect life for us, when we could not. The law may pose a challenge to us, but we fail the moment we take up the challenge. We fail by taking the challenge. In a sense, it is only by refusing the challenge that the challenge can be conquered, not by our own efforts, but only in Christ who is victorious over death. In Christ alone, do we have eternal life through the forgiveness of sins. Christ who sacrificed himself for us on the cross, is our life returned to what it was supposed to be and made whole.

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