“Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
On Sunday mornings right now I am taking the congregation I am privileged to pastor through the book of Ecclesiastes. We’re not hitting every verse by any means, but rather some key highlights, as we wrestle with the question of how we can find meaning for our lives that isn’t going to run out on us when the wind starts blowing in a new direction. What does this have to do with what Paul writes here? Well…everything.
Our culture is at an interesting crossroads. There are two competing forces pulling on us which seem to be diametrically opposed to one another. The truth, though, is that they are both the result of differing answers to this question of purpose.
The first force is our rage against the reality of aging and dying. Growing old and eventually dead terrifies our culture. We do everything we can to push this off as far as we can. And in some ways, we’ve actually experienced something like success. The average life expectancy in most of the western world has gotten pretty long, especially compared with even the fairly recent past. Our ability to diagnose and successfully treat a whole variety of illnesses is better than it has ever been and is getting better all the time. Data-based trends in healthy living, when followed faithfully can result in a high quality of life much longer than most folks used to experience.
As if that wasn’t enough—and by simply looking around it quickly becomes clear it isn’t enough—we worship anything that has to do with being young. Young people are heralded as founts of wisdom simply because they are young. Youth-driven political movements are lauded in the media far beyond what they actually deserve on merits. The age of adolescence is being extended ever further while younger and younger people are being told they should have the rights of adults. Men and women who are grown are often found to be behaving like children and not many seem to be overly bothered by this.
Why? Purpose. A world with no sense of something next recognizes the futility of death. In death all meaning and activity stops if this life is all there is. And for a people starved for meaning, the terror of this prospect grabs hold of our souls and refuses to let go. As a result, we celebrate and idolize what we perceive to be the opposite of death—youth. We worship youth and it’s sense of immortality. Any fad or activity that reminds us of youth becomes big news…and often big business.
On the other side of this, the apparently opposite force is this growing sense that there is no purpose to it all. Interestingly, this force is largely the fruit of the first. In our efforts to find meaning and purpose in something other than God—which is the whole program of secularism—we have found over and over that no lasting meaning is to be found there. The result has been a growing depression and despair in which we either try and medicate away our growing sense of meaninglessness, or else simply follow this sense to its logical conclusions and end our lives, or both.
All of this comes out of the fact that we were created with eternity in our hearts, but have been telling ourselves for a couple of generations that there isn’t anything after this life. We groan in this tent. We don’t want to be unclothed by the frailty we know all too well. We want to be clothed with the immortality for which we, were created and for which we long as we languish here even if we can’t give word our longing because we’ve either lost such language from unintentional ignorance or have refused to use it in our embrace of a worldview that can’t explain the longings we naturally feel.
In Christ, however, we can. In Christ we know that one day this mortality that so confounds us, this mortality we try and hold at bay by worshiping youth or finally despairingly and hopelessly embrace, will be swallowed up by life. Not the kind of life we play at here, but real and eternal life. This life, this resurrection, is the substance of our hope. It’s the substance of our enduring hope in the face of death, whether of someone else or of our own. The mortality we face no matter if it is ours or someone else’s, will be swallowed up with life. We will be clothed and no longer feel naked in our soul. That longing we have will be fulfilled. But only in Christ.
It is only when we finally place our faith in Christ and His resurrection from the dead that we will finally fill our souls with the life we long to live. In Him alone is life, but He will share liberally with all who wish to receive it. Hear again: This life is for everyone. But only in Christ. Death need not bring any fear because it is defeated. But only in Christ. Life is ours for the living. But only in Christ. Let us set aside our fear and receive the life He’s waiting to give.