However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless.
Ecclesiastes 11:8, NIV
Ecclesiastes is, to me, a very calming book, because it looks at life from the perspective of eternity and tells me what is truly important.
Life is a process of changing plans into memories. At the beginning of life, you have nothing but plans, some of which you discard and others of which you carry out. As you progress through your life, whether your plans are fulfilled or frustrated, they become memories. Finally, when you stand at the end of your life, you have no plans and all memories.
Here are a few things I don’t think are important:
Creation vs. Evolution
Now some people get all worked up on this topic, I know. I am not smart enough or well enough informed to understand all the mass of scientific data that has been brought to bear on this question, or to figure out a way to adjust the data to fit Genesis, or to adjust my interpretation of Genesis to fit the data. I do know that science is an on-going process of gathering data, and if I don’t like the theories the scientists are advocating today, I can just wait until tomorrow when they have more data and different theories.
However, I observe this: when I was a child, most scientists felt that the universe was an eternal thing, without beginning and without end. Today, scientific cosmologists are convinced that the universe began in one massive explosion, and that it will eventually fade away and end.
My mind is not big enough to peer into the secret mysteries of creation, but I am astute enough to see the trend: The Bible says that in the beginning, God said, “Let there be light!” And science says, “and then there was this Big Bang…”
My faith is large enough to be content with the limitations of my mind. It is by my faith, and not by my intellect that I will be saved when I stand before the Lord on the Last Day. It’s not what I know that will count, it’s Who I trust.
A lot of people have very specific ideas about how the world will end: they speak of tribulations and raptures and millenniums and things like that. They interpret signs of the end times and make predictions.
I have never attended a church that taught any more detail about end times than the fact that Jesus will return, the dead will rise, and all will be judged. A friend of mine attempted to explain all this millennium stuff to me, but it all seemed overly complicated to me. I asked why I should bother believing it. After all, what happens at the end of the world will happen; my knowing about it in advance will give me no benefit, and my eternal salvation is not endangered by my ignorance of it.
I can’t figure out all this end-time stuff, but neither can the end-times prophets: every single person who has ever interpreted contemporary events in light of Revelation has been proved wrong. In 1988, someone I knew recommended a book by a Mr. Whisant which listed 88 reasons why the Lord would come in 1988. When the Gulf War came, a lot of people thought it was the battle of Armageddon.
So I have concluded that it is not good to be overly concerned with end-time events. When the end comes, it comes. It is more likely that you will go to be with the Lord before the Lord has a chance to come to you; either way, you don’t know when the end will come.
When Jesus speaks of the end, He does not speak disparagingly about the people who are surprised, but about the people who are unprepared. When Jesus returns, I’d rather He interrupt me while I’m preaching the gospel, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, edifying the saints, and otherwise showing myself a good steward. I don’t think He would approve if He came and found me idle, staring at my watch, and exclaiming, “Right on time!”
Now you may be surprised to see happiness listed as something that doesn’t matter, but I am convinced it belongs in this list.
Some people try to sell Christianity as a means of having certain emotions all the time, such as happiness, peace of mind, joy, or satisfaction. But I don’t think that is right. Should I be happy if my brother is in distress? Should I have peace of mind if I have unrepented sins? Should I be joyful when so many do not know the Lord? Shall I be satisfied when my service and obedience is inadequate?
No, emotions aren’t that important; whether they are pleasant emotions or unpleasant ones, they will come and go. Happiness is of prime importance to worldly people, because they only have the present moment. If they are not happy now, they have lost something. But I am a spiritual person who has more than just the present moment. I can bear unhappiness if it brings a greater reward later on.
Therefore, I think it is better to be sad and wise than happy and foolish. I may be happy today and sad tomorrow, but I can be wise all the time. Happiness makes me lean back and enjoy life, but wisdom motivates me to build and serve.
The way I read the gospels, we serve in this world and are rewarded in the next. So happiness in this life might be regarded as an advance on our eternal reward. I think I’d rather keep it on account where it can bear interest, and concentrate on service now. So you can have the happiness and joy now. I will choose obedience and service, because I know that God, who gives good things to those who love Him, will take care of my emotional needs.
Keep your eyes on your Christian service, and don’t be so preoccupied with the fringe benefits of working for the Lord. If God is trustworthy, you don’t need to give these things a second thought.
Keep your eyes on the plow. If you look back to see if someone is cheering, or up to see if Jesus is coming, you might plow a crooked furrow. When Jesus comes, He’d rather find you plowing than looking.