I haven’t posted on the blog in quite a bit. I’ve been waiting to think of something to write that has some form of substance. I thought maybe I would write something about the UK’s referendum to leave the EU, or perhaps regarding a recent conversation I had with an individual about Planned Parenthood, or the most relevant thing going on in my everyday life (my sister and nephews coming up to visit). As I was walking downtown today, amidst seeking a cup of coffee and perhaps a ship in a bottle kit with which to enjoy some time with a brother from church, I ran across this picture in a window…
It struck me. This quote, from where it comes I do not know, is something I find more and more prevalent within our current societal culture. It’s not just ours, you can find this idea throughout history. Any time mankind has endeavored to build a large structure, or create something meaningful their hope is most certainly for it to last forever. A portion of those people, perhaps, even had that as their main intention. I’ve even heard folks bring this idea up within a religious context, even professing christians. If I remember correctly, two prominent unbelieving theologians–Bishop John Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg–have even sprung this idea up regarding the resurrection of Christ and the subsequent church he came to purchase and build up via his Spirit.
The main problem with this quote is that it is entirely antithetical to the full scope of God’s revelation of himself to humanity, the Christ centered scriptures; the Bible. I am no doubt aware that this quote has some element of truth to it and can be misconstrued to fit into a Christian paradigm, but that is surely not the intent of the author who brought about its origination. The book of Ecclesiastes points out this problem of intent throughout, and the author does not find it a comforting fact, he finds it to be, “meaningless”, or vanity, or quite literally a passing breath.
“What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” Eccl 1:3–4
It’s a factual observation, the author points out in the beginning, that the toil every person puts themselves to is enjoyed not by themselves, ultimately it is enjoyed by those who did not produce it…
“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” Eccl 2:18–26
The author, on this point of creating something that will last forever, finds it folly for the sinner i.e. unbeliever, for his toil will be given to the “one who pleases God.”
Even amongst the curses God gives Israel for disobedience to his covenant are things along these lines,
“A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors…” Deut 28:33a
This is but a small sampling of the illogic behind this hope. It is in-fact no hope. Altruistic, maybe, but not hope. What kind of hope does someone have to know someone else is enjoying their labor? In fact, most whom espouse this worldview believe in a non existent afterlife. They will not even be aware, in their worldview, that anyone is enjoying these things… so their defense is entirely moot. This is no hope.
For the Christian, on the other hand, we are supposed to store things up that do last forever. By thinking first of God’s kingdom, and striving towards it. A place where, “moth and rust do not destroy.” Matt 6:19–20 It is God’s promise that in eternity we will not only enjoy him, which is inexpressibly glorious, but we will have all of creation to enjoy, this is what Isaiah 60-61 gives in great detail. The bulk of the last 20+ chapters of the book of Isaiah are full of these references. They are a bastion of hope and joy to be had in the presence of God for eternity, it is quite possibly one reason it is the book so often quoted in the NT.
“The Lord has sworn by his right hand
and by his mighty arm:
“I will not again give your grain
to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink your wine
for which you have labored;
but those who garner it shall eat it
and praise the Lord,
and those who gather it shall drink it
in the courts of my sanctuary.” Isaiah 62:8–9
Jesus even reads from Isaiah 61 in his home synagogue. Philip preaches the gospel of Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch beginning with Isaiah 53, where in just the next few pages it speaks of the greater praise and honor that is had, in the presence of God, for the barren woman and the eunuch. Where in the Torah eunuchs where cut off from enjoying the sanctuary. This is not language of someone else merely enjoying things you made, or a lack of emphasis on living forever. No! it is all the above. To live forever, enjoying things you’ve made. Things others have made. Watching them enjoy the things you’ve made and vice versa. And most of all, being with the creator of the universe, the one who does all these things and gives life.
“The idea is not to live forever, it is to create something that will”
I want to change this a bit to,
“The idea is to live forever with God, and enjoy the things he created to be there.”