Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
- Steve Jobs
The consciousness of death is the beginning of all philosophy. It causes you to stop and question - what really matters? What does it all mean? What am I doing that will last? I was struck when I picked up the newspaper this morning and learned of Steve Jobs death. He had such an impact on my life through the films he helped create at Pixar to the technology he designed at Apple. Our world will never be the same. Or will it?
The quote above is from Jobs' commencement address at Stanford in 2005 and has been making the rounds across the internet over the past 24 hours. The words are inspiring and especially poignant on a day like today, however, I’m not sure I agree.
At Gateway we’ve been in a sermon series on Ecclesiastes. This book is unlike any other book in the Bible. Most of the books of the Bible we go to to find answers. But Ecclesiastes is a book of questions, not answers. It was written to draw something out of you. It asks life’s tough questions and pushes you to the follow the logical conclusion of your assumptions and beliefs. It asks, “Why do you believe that? And if you believe that, do you see where that belief ultimately leads?”
It begins like this: "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?”
The word “meaningless” and the phrase “under the sun” are repeated again and again throughout the book and are the keys to understanding the approach of the Teacher.
The Hebrew word for “meaningless” is hevel which translates vapor, mist, or breath. Life is vapor. It’s all a mist. Success, invention, money, fame, wisdom, education, power - it’s all hevel. It is here today and gone tomorrow.
The phrase “under the sun” refers to the realm of the created, which exists in time. Namely the time between the day you were born and the day you die. It is everything we can touch, see and observe. The Teacher is saying, “Let’s assume that nature is all there is. Let’s assume that the only life is the life under the sun. There is no heaven or hell. There is no God. If that is the case, what does it all mean?”
This book was written thousands of years ago, but this is actually a very modern approach. Every scientist will tell you that one day our sun will burn up and die. Which means that absolutely everything you do will be utterly forgotten. Nothing you do will make any lasting difference. There is no gain! There is no profit! It is all meaningless!
If this life is all there is then death trumps every card you can play.
No amount of strategic planning.
No amount of due-diligence.
No amount of risk management.
No amount of hard work will stop it!
So in the face of death what does really matter? What can we do that will last? What does it all mean?
Like Jobs, the Teacher tries “following his heart.” He pursues a variety of different paths. Pleasure and frivolity (2v10); wisdom and education (2v15); work and philanthropy (2v4). Like Jobs he did it all. Accomplished it all. He got the BMW. Solved the equation. Finished the book. Invented the iPod. Then he looks all that he had done and has the guts to ask - what does it all mean? “When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (2v11)
If our origin is insignificant and our destiny is insignificant then our lives must be insignificant. Following your heart is just vague sentimentality.
So what is the answer? The book of Ecclesiastes only hints at it. In the end the Teacher concludes, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (2v24). Here, for the first time in this book, we see God begin to invade life under the sun. God the uncreated entering into the realm of the created.
What is the Teacher saying?
Either there is life above the sun - a God who created you, sustains you, and will ultimately judge you - or else everything is ultimately meaningless. Either there is life above the sun and there is meaning or there is only life under the sun and nothing means anything. And there is no middle ground.
So how do we know?
John chapter 1 says, “In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos was God... The logos became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
Logos is a Greek philosophical term that essentially meant the reason for life. In the time before Christ the Greek philosophers used to get together and say, “if we could just discover the logos of life, then things will be fine.” So they would argue about what the logos could be. Confucius said we should honor our parents and ancestors. Others said our logos is to make the world a better place. Others said we should just follow our heart. But everyone found that when they brought their lives into accord with it, it didn’t transform them.
By the time Jesus arrived many were saying there is no logos. There is no meaning in life.
And into that, John steps in and says there is logos. But the logos is not a truth brought by a person, it is a truth that is a person. It is not an abstract principle or theorem. The logos is a human being. God come to earth. Invading life under the sun. Dwelling among us. Showing us how much we matter. How much creation matters. How much every moment of our lives matter!
And when you know this logos you find your reason for life and now instead of nothing meaning anything, everything means everything.
To be a Christian means to follow Christ and reflect his nature - and when you do you begin to realize that everything in this life matters. Every moment. Every child’s hug. Every midnight conversation. Every walk in nature. Everything is a reflection of the truth of God’s nature.
I know the reason that Winter turns into Spring and that a seed becomes flower is because God brings life out of death.
I know that when I talk to someone in the airport, I could have the opportunity to turn them toward God and that conversation could be something that 3 billion years from now we look back on with laughter and tears in our eyes because right now counts forever.
I know that when my baby is crying at 4am and I go to help her out that this child is not just the result of a random collision of molecules and that nothing she ever does will ultimately matter. No. I know this child is created in the image of God. Created with an immortal soul. If this child turns toward the Lord than someday we will sit together around the throne of God laughing and loving and rejoicing in eternity.
When I clean my house, wash my car, cook a meal - this is not just an electro-chemical need in my brain for order. It’s because I was made in the image of a God who brings order out of chaos.
Everything means everything or nothing means anything. If Jesus becomes your logos - than every moment matters.