A number of years ago, I was at a dinner gathering with people from around our community. I knew most of them by reputation, but they were not involved in the congregation I served. Cathy, the woman sitting next to me said, “Do you mind if I ask you a theological question?”
“Not at all. What’s on your mind?”
“Well, both my parents recently died. I believe they are in heaven. As I was talking to my husband about heaven, I said that I felt ready to die. I don’t want to die now and leave my family, but I believe in the Lord. Then I thought: What is the point of life in this world anyway? I mean, there are many good things in our lives, but just what is the point of this life, especially if heaven is so great and glorious?”
John, our host, chimed in, “Life here is really great—but there’s also plenty of heartache. Why not go straight to eternity?”
These questions, though new to them, are ones many have asked silently in their hearts. In one sense, these are the Ecclesiastes questions. The Book of Ecclesiastes, normally attributed to Solomon, David’s heir and King of Israel whose wealth and power were beyond comparison, dives deeply into the the futility and never-quite-satisfying nature of life. Here are the opening words:
These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”
3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-8 New Living Translation)
Citing the cyclical nature of life, the endless repetition, the author asks, “What is the point of life when all that we do seems to add up to emptiness, vanity, and meaninglessness? Why do we keep going?”
To ask these questions is to penetrate to the meaning of life; to answer them is to grasp in a new way the very purpose of existence.
I think a partial reply is found in the verse, “To you is born this day in the City of David a Savior…” (Luke 2:11)
Jesus came to show us that part of God’s grand purpose for us includes the fullest experience of life in this world to better prepare us for the fullness of life in glory!
Jesus’ birth gives meaning to history. Jesus’ life on this earth gives meaning to my story and yours. This earthly life is our way of connecting with God now and for eternity. A passage from Forbes Robinson (1867-1904), an Anglican chaplain, presents the heroic aspect of our living now by faith. He suggests that our living “by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) can inspire even the angels who have no experience of “faith” because they live now in God’s presence —what a fascinating thought! Robinson writes,
“If angels could envy, how they would envy us our splendid chance, to be able, in a world where everything unseen must be taken on sheer faith, in a world where the contest between the flesh and the spirit is being decided for the universe, not only to win the battle ourselves but also to win it for others! To help [another] up the mountain while you yourself are only just able to keep your foothold, to struggle through the mist together, that surely is better than to stand at the summit and beckon. You will have a hard time of it, I know; and I would like to make it smoother and to ‘let you down’ easier; but I am sure that God, who loves you even more than I do, and has absolute wisdom, will not tax you beyond your strength…” [quoted in John W. Doberstein, Minister’s Prayer Book (Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1986), 203-04].
Life is not just an exercise in waiting for heaven. Life now matters. Affirm the message of this quote, attributed to Irenaeus of Lyons (a second century church leader), “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” God became flesh to validate as well as redeem life in this world. Live now.