14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
I thought that was a funny way to describe us human beings: we live and then we do this and that - random, arbitrary, meaningless things.
One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This verse is filled with God’s promise of plenty. But sometimes humankind wants to take things into its own hands. We make our own plans and don’t confer with Spirit, or we may get nudges but ignore the guidance entirely.
This is what James 4:14 addresses. We make our plans, but the truth is we don’t know what is going to happen; we don’t know how many years, days, or hours we have left on this planet. “If it is God’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
Here is a truth: As long as we are in body, we have a limited amount of borrowed time to walk the earth. It is God’s will as to how long our earthly journey lasts. To aid us, God has created the laws of science to apply to our lives. There are certain activities that can shorten our life span… texting while driving, bungee jumping off short bridges with a long chord, come to mind.
For many people, scientific awareness motivates us to take care of ourselves, to stay fit, eat right, and treat these bodies with respect. We try to optimize the amount of time that we have in our bodies before we ultimately release them.
So, how should we live while? What should we be doing? Solomon, touted as one of the wisest men in history had some things to say about the subject. In Ecclesiastes Chapter 9 he says much to consider. He reminds us of two things: death is certain; life is uncertain. In 1716, seventy-three years before Benjamin Franklin made the phrase famous, Christopher Bullock wrote: “Tis impossible to be sure of anything except Death and Taxes.”
Death is certain. That every one of us will leave our bodies behind is indisputable. This is the meaning of death to which Solomon referred when he wrote in Ecclesiastes 9:2: “All share a common destiny--the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. 3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all.”
Solomon did not have the benefit of Christ’s teaching, and was not familiar with the idea of the immortal soul inhabiting a temporary body, so he calls death “the evil”. He saw only what happened to the body, so physical, bodily death - is a certainty.
Then he said that life was uncertain. Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 9:1 that “… the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.” There are no guarantees in life. Our lessons are our lessons. The righteous man cannot cajole God into denying his needed lessons.
We are in God’s hands and they are God’s plans that are playing out before us. We can accept them, respond to them, learn from them, and try to enjoy them to the best of our abilities - or not. Sometime they are hard lessons; sometime they are easy and gentle. Whatever we encounter is not intended to harm us, threaten us, or beat us down. Our experiences are intended to educate, strengthen, and raise our spiritual awareness.
The fear and resentment to life experience come from the human, earthly, lower natures of our thinking. When we are connected to Spirit, we recognize our challenges for what they were intended: to prepare us and bring us closer to the Divine.
Solomon urges us to make the most of our lives while we are in body. In 9:7 he writes: “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.” Contained within this verse is the suggestion on how to live by one of God’s wisest messengers. There are five imperatives illustrated here: Go, Eat, Drink, Enjoy, and Do Now.”
I don’t know about you, but it sounds like he is saying, “Party on, dude. Enjoy your family and friends while you can because life in a body is temporary.” He says, “Go, be active; seize life now, don’t flee from it.”
Throughout the Bible, bread and wine are metaphors for the nourishment we need at all levels – soul, mind, and body. Christ uses it at the Last Supper, and they have become the sacraments for Communion – the connecting to the Christ nature within us.
Even today, bread and wine are symbolic of the goodness and blessings that God showers upon us, comforting us, cheering us. In short, Solomon is telling us to enjoy all of God’s gifts and celebrate life with others. We are to slow it all down, and enjoy the moments and meals with our family, friends, and loved ones.
“It is now that God favors what you do.” This means that our enjoyment of each moment is part of God’s plan for us; it is God’s will that we enjoy our time in these bodies. We are still stewards for what God has given to us and are here to develop our skills, wisdom, talents, and increase our capacity to learn. We are to respect our gifts and ourselves, and not abuse what we have been given. No, we are not to be hedonists and only pursue pleasure. However, it is not a sin, an error in thinking or behaving, to enjoy God’s blessings – even the luxuries.
Part of our challenge is to find the balance: between gratefulness and generosity, receiving and sharing. In Ecclesiastes 9:8, we are told: “Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.” In Solomon’s day, special occasions required special dress – the wearing of white. So when they were celebrating – weddings, births, and harvest festivals – it was accompanied by wearing white. He is telling us to dress each day in celebration of life, not mourning. Find balance. Oil on the head was the Biblical equivalent to making something sacred, and in some cases putting on deodorant. The metaphor means to us that we are always being watched and cared for, our hurts are being addressed, and we are being protected by our Creator. Solomon’s advice was to greet each day looking good, feeling good, smelling good, with an attitude of anticipation, celebration, and joy.
Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. But near the end of his life when he wrote Ecclesiastes 9:9 he said this: “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.” The phrase ‘under the sun’ means ‘apart from God’, or on earth, outside our spiritual nature.
He speaks of woman in the singular rather than the plural. He returned to the idea of one partner, one love. In a general way, it applies to everyone we meet and every relationship. Men and women, marital partners, friends and neighbors, put away the excuses and forgive each other. Stop waiting for the other to make the first step. Act now. Time is running out. We will only be in these bodies for a short while. Don’t waste the time with petty selfish egoistic silliness and pride.
Some might be thinking, “This is hard, she needs to show me first,” or “He needs to demonstrate leadership.” But guess what…we’re going to die! Our friends and families are going to put us in the ground and throw dirt on our coffins, or they are going to cremate us and plant a tree with our ashes. Then they will go back home and eat potato salad and finger foods.
Our time on earth is short. Why spend a minute of it blaming and being disgruntled? Why burden the one you love with expectations and demands, all the while building resentments and counting the hurts? Let us be the grownup and forgive. Don’t waste another precious moment; love and enjoy each other, enjoy life now.
Solomon also advises that we do our work while we can. He says, “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” The implication is to find every opportunity to use our talents and abilities with our greatest intensity and effort. Work and serve here on earth while we can. Contribute, make a difference. Arise each day with this prayer: “Thank You, God! Another day to use the gifts and the strength and the mind You have supplied me. What a precious gift You have given me that I may work and serve.” We are invited to allow Spirit to move through us and be active in Creation through us.
People may scoff at us when we are serving or giving or doing what we think is important. They may say, “Patrick, you can’t save all the earthworms from drowning. What you are doing won’t make a difference; it just doesn’t matter.” Then I bend down and pick up another worm off the sidewalk, and smile. “No, I can’t save them all; I can’t all of life, every person. You’re right, what I am doing may not matter to anyone, and perhaps I can’t make a difference in the long run. But it made a difference to this little guy,” and I toss the worm onto the grass.
We have to forgive those whose thinking is limited and devoid of ‘now’. We are not here to save everyone; that’s not ‘now’ thinking. We are here to affect the ones we meet and connect with today. We can’t serve everyone, but we can serve some. We will never matter to everyone. But be assured that there are people in our lives to whom we have made a difference and to whom we matter. Life is about doing what we can, loving as much as possible.
Solomon goes on to say that despite our being swift, strong, wise, discerning, and able, we will not always find success and win the goal. Why not? – “because time and chance overtake them all.” Wisdom, skill, and hard work will promote success, but it does not guarantee it. The Founding Fathers of our nation wrote in our Constitution that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Although we have the right to life and liberty, we do not have the right to happiness. But we have the right to the pursuit of happiness, and it is in the pursuit of happiness that we find purpose, satisfaction, and joy. It is not necessarily in the attainment. Life is uncertain. Enjoy it now.
Our race is to be the best we can be; be the best vessel for Spirit to express through into Creation. Jokingly, I once asked our son Daniel, at around age five or six, what was the meaning of life. Without hesitation, he answered, “To be a part of it.” It remains the best answer I have ever heard to that question.
It is my prayer that we engage life, chase after all the joy of life, that is present – right here, right now. The fear of death is the fear of the future. There is no death in the present moment. If we woke up today, then we are alive and there is hope; there is a reason to celebrate. “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.” This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Or to use today’s vernacular: Party on, dudes.