We spend so much of life thinking: I can’t wait until…I graduate/get my license/get married/get a job/get promoted/have children/the children leave home/ I retire/ the weekend. It’s hard for us to enjoy the stage of life we’re in at the moment. I, for example, am experiencing “old age.” At least that’s what my kids tell me. I am experiencing the “old age” of youth as I approach the upper 50s, which would mean that I’m about to enter the youth of old age (?). Is this middle age, then? Is this the time in life when a person hears two voices – one saying, “Why not?” and the other, “Why bother?”
Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon declares, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 all references are from the NIV84) Life under the sun, life from this world’s point of view is meaningless, unfulfilling, a chasing after the wind. Education, obsession over work and pleasure, reflection, expectations, and possessions – all of these, Solomon says, are chasing after the wind. All of these fail to deliver lasting happiness, meaning, fulfillment.
He speaks especially of the limitations of aging and old age. Again, you do not have to read on; you can stop right now and I won’t take it personally. You have been warned! But if you insist, please read on…
Old age is often called the winter of life. It can be a time of sadness, one setback after another, reflected in these words (all from Ecclesiastes 12) – “The sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain.” Solomon speaks of old age with vivid imagery, using the analogy of an aging, dilapidated, broken-down house to picture an aging body. Arms, legs, knees, feet and teeth are affected by aging –“The keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few.” Eyesight fails – “Those looking through the windows grow dim.” Hearing fades – “The doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades.” Sleep becomes more difficult - “Men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint.” Age renders us a bit less reckless and a bit more fearful: “When men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets.” Hair turns white/gray – “The almond tree blossoms” Age removes the spring in our step and replaces it with stiffness and limping –“The grasshopper drags himself along.” The longer we live, the closer the end comes, the less pleasure we experience – “Desire no longer is stirred.” In the original language it’s unclear if this refers to the pleasure of taste and eating or to sexual desire – both certainly apply. Then the end comes. “Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.”
I did warn you. Now you must continue to read! Solomon continues, “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.” (12:1, 6-7)
If you go through life without God in your life, without acknowledging your Creator, your life will come to an unhappy, meaningless, frustrating end…and eternity. But Solomon does have a message of hope sprinkled throughout this largely pessimistic missive known as the book of Ecclesiastes. Take it to heart. “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This…is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (2:24,25) “When God gives any man wealth and possessions and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.” (4:19,20)
Remember, dear friends, Jesus experienced all the limitations of humanity (and more!) that we might one day live without limitations: free of sin, free of death, free of the effects of aging, able to live forever at his side!
Pastor Stephen Luchterhand