King Solomon tried everything.
But nothing worked. All of it, earthly living, was toil, strife, like chasing the wind. He had everything he could possibly want, but his life felt hollow. His advice, his wisdom, his prestige, his possessions, his life; all of it would one day come to an end and become nothing. Everything on earth was an endless cycle he couldn’t escape from that bored him to tears. He was tired of watching the sun go down and come up, waters flowing from rivers to oceans to clouds to rain back to rivers, tired of watching history repeat itself. Even the cycle of life and death was inescapable.
So what was the point of living? Why even try?
To Solomon, his best advice was “enjoy it while it lasts”– as if you could conveniently forget that it would one day end, be erased, and become meaningless!
So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?
Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 (NLT)
Or was it? After all, Solomon’s words endured, and we are reading them in the present day.
What if there was more life after life? What if, after death, his consciousness, his legacy of life, went somewhere else, even as his body decayed with the relentless passage of time? What if the answer was beyond the observable phenomena of a world skipping like a broken record, waiting for its own death and resurrection in a spin cycle of futility? Wouldn’t that change everything?
When the answer to our question lies beyond what can be seen or measured, it takes a leap of faith to resolve the tension of not knowing.
“If Christ has not been raised,” in the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, then life truly is meaningless. Why bother living or playing the game until it’s over? If Christ has not been raised, if no one has come back from the dead, then death is truly the end, and there is no life after this one. No one will be remembered, or rewarded, or punished, and the long lives of the wicked laugh in the face of the deaths of young innocents.
But if we do believe, if we choose to leap, then there remains a hope for the household of God, the adopted ones plucked from death, to bloom once and again forever, like an old photograph of a flower fixed in time and never perishing. But even better than the photograph, which stores a weak copy of what once existed, we will live this life as the shadowy faded image, and the next life as the original, embodied and spirit. Growing and transforming, we will live the second life with more colors in our resurrected petals and leaves than we could possibly dream in our shallow, black-and-white, fixed-frame scope of perception.
If this life is just one sentence in a never ending story of time repeating itself, how do we write it in a way that will stand out, will have enduring meaning for thousands of years like the proverbs of Solomon? How do we live this shadowy life to the full waiting for the real one “that counts” instead of leaving it blank, letting it fade, or waiting to be erased with the passage of time?
I believe the answer is to invest time in this life toward the next life. When I open up a new project, I sometimes fizzle out halfway through because I’m not sure what I’m doing or what comes next; only by following the adage, “Begin with the end in mind” can I visualize the impact of the finished work and get the excitement and encouragement I need to fuel me through the setbacks or complications that come along.
At the end of the same passage in I Corinthians, St. Paul encouraged his friends to give their lives fully over to God, because he believed that God’s heavenly promised land is where their next life would be lived.
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, 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.”
I Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)
While you can’t take what you own with you, you will be bringing your character, your experiences, and your relationships with others into the next life. What’s your point in life? What are your priorities right now? If a stranger looked at how you spent your time, would they know where your priorities lie?
For Further Reading:
Ecclesiastes 1:3-11, 2:16-25
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
A Million Ways to Die: The Only Way to Live by Rick James
Imagine Heaven by John Burke