Yesterday I tried to draw out some of the harsh realities of our existence, namely that only this present moment exists. Therefore, any memory of happiness or hope for joy is imaginary, a shadow even. I noticed how we fail to fulfil our innate desire for joy because we believe we have either already been as happy as we ever will be, or we anticipate achieving or gaining something in the future which will grant us that joy. This seemed absurd to me. Imagine feeling hungry, but only ever remembering a meal you ate, or looking forward to a future time when you will be able to eat. This would kill a man.
As I see it, people walk around dead in their souls because they have denied themselves joy.
It may come as a surprise to precisely no-one that I really enjoy Ecclesiastes. This is one of the Wisdom books of the Bible (including Proverbs and Job) and it is an extended discourse from an anonymous ‘Preacher’ to a young man. He demonstrates the futility and fleeting nature of all things, pointing out the uncomfortable truth that nothing lasts and even the best things in life lack ultimate meaning or significance. I think it’s message adds something unique to this discussion.
Summarising the book after demonstrating how everything is vanity, the Preacher says:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
– Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Now, how might this impact this present moment? Fully aware that there is nothing beyond now, what is the Preacher saying to the young man?
For the Preacher it is better to know God than anything else. He has carefully shown that all things are void of meaning. Everything except this one thing. This one most important thing. This God around whom all human existence must find it’s significance.
It’s one thing to say to a poor old man that he should think of God for his hope. His best days are gone and there is likely nothing left for him on this world. No more wealth to create or children to father. He should have hope in God, lest he fear the Great Beyond.
But the Preacher tells his young student:
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”
– Ecclesiastes 12:1
So for the Preacher God is not a last resort. He is the first thing. The one significant thing in a man’s life. We see therefore that God is the first and the last. In him is all the world and our existence.
I find this remarkable since many people would claim that the time this book was written in was primitive, and their notions of God were driven by fear of the unknown and the desire to have their needs provided for (sacrifices to the rain-gods or the fertility-gods and so on). Ecclesiastes makes no apology for directing the reader to think on both riches and poverty and war and peace and the hard times and the good times. For this Preacher, God was something bigger than a means to a secure and happy life. He was an end in himself.
Yesterday’s challenge was to find something worthwhile to satisfy the most basic desire we all feel for joy, right now. The Preacher would tell us that this is found in God. Everything else is vanity. There will be a time when life is no longer pleasing. Can it be that knowing God is better than life?
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.