The Meaning of Life and Death


The Meaning of Life and Death

January 5th, 1992 @ 8:15 AM

Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool. Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity. Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity. There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I? For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Ecclesiastes 2:15-26

1-05-92    8:15 a.m.


We welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television.  You are now part of our precious First Baptist Church in Dallas.  And the title of the message is The Meaning of Life and of Death.

In our preaching through the Book of Ecclesiastes, we are in our third message.  And we begin with the author’s sensitivity to and consciousness of the universality of death.  So he writes in the second chapter, verse 15: “As it happens to the fool.  It also happens to me . . .Then said I in my heart: “This also is the wind, it is vanity.”  There is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool.  All that now is will be forgotten in the days to come.  And how does a wise man die?  As a fool! [Ecclesiastes 2:15, 16]

And then again in chapter [3], verse 18:

I said in my heart, “Concerning the condition of sons of men; God tries them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals.”

What happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: they die.  Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over beasts, for all is vanity.

All go to one place:  all are from the dust, and all return to the dust.

Who knows the spirit of the sons of men that goes upward, and the spirit of the beast, which goes downward to the earth?

[Ecclesiastes 3:18-21]

The whole spectrum of living life ends in an ultimate and final death.  Not only was he conscious of the universality and finality of death, but he was also sensitive to the meaningless and emptiness of life itself.  That’s this text.  He begins it, “Vanity of vanities”—wind of the wind—”all is vanity” [Ecclesiastes 1:2].

There is no ultimate meaning in life whatsoever.  One of the great brilliant men said, “The reason we are here is to ask why are we here, and have the question go unanswered.”  There is no meaning to life, this king of Israel avows.  Whether he’s a great man, or a good man, or a famous man, when he’s dead he’s soon forgotten.  Like the waves of the sea, who remembers them?  Like plowing water who looks for a furrow, life is meaningless and empty.  It is vanity.

Not only was he conscious of the universality of death, and not only was he conscious of the meaninglessness of life, the emptiness of life, but he also was sensitive to the lack of satisfaction in the rewards that we achieve in this world; always that restlessness, that unhappiness.  He avows it in his own life.  He sought to seek wisdom and was disappointed.  He sought to enjoy pleasure and was frustrated.  He sought in all kinds of achievements; great works to find satisfaction and was unhappy.  And he sought an answer in great wealth and riches, and was unhappy.

That is like the story of the prodigal son.  He sought to feed himself on the husks of this earth; and husks don’t feed the soul [Luke 15:16].  It’s like that man Jesus spoke of whose land brought forth plentifully and his barns wouldn’t hold it, and he tore down his barns to build bigger ones [Luke 12:18].  And always it never stops—want more, not happy in what we have.  There is a lack in everything we achieve and possess in this world.

One of the great painters of all time is Sir Joshua Reynolds; and he was knighted by the king and was greatly honored by the whole world.  He was a gracious gentleman and somebody brought to him a painting and asked what he thought.  And the great artist looked at it and wanted to be kind and encouraging.  And he looked at it and he said, “The composition is splendid and the lines are excellent and the color is most admirable.  But,” and he hesitated, “but,” and he hesitated, “but—but it lacks that.”

All life is like that; it lacks that in itself.  It lacks that.  Without that, music is not music; it’s just noise.  Without that, literature is not literature, it’s just verbiage, it’s just words.  Without that, life is empty and meaningless.  Without that, man has no reason for existence.  What is that?  The artist avows here in chapter [3] and verse 11, “God has put eternity in our hearts” [Ecclesiastes 3:11].  And you can’t escape it.   No matter who you are, there is something on the inside of your soul that seeks something over and beyond what we possess in this life.  It’s like a bell tolling in the soul.  It’s like the knocking of the door of your heart, you can’t escape it; That, eternity in the soul.

Some of these great literary men of all time: Augustine, he fought God in the days of his youth.  He was prodigal, and found an answer to his soul and wrote The City of God.  And the first opening sentence in that confession is one of the most famous and most often quoted in the earth.  He said, “O God, Thou hast made us for Thyself.  And we are restless until we rest in Thee.”

Henry Thoreau, our great American naturalist, wrote, “I hear, smell, taste, see, feel that everlasting something to which we are allied and which is at once our maker, our abode, our destiny, and our very selves.”

Auguste Sabatier, “Why am I religious?  Because I cannot help it.  It is a moral necessity of my being.”

In a novel by H. G. Wells, a young girl repudiates, revolts against everything, but cries out, “Yet we’ve got to devote ourselves to something.  We’re made that way.”

And Professor Robert A. Milliken, “Everyone who reflects at all believes, in one way or another, in God.  It is to me unthinkable that a real atheist could exist at all.”

And Walt Whitman sounds like prose, but it’s poetry:

I think I could turn and live with animals,

They are so placid and self-contain’d,

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me guilty discussing their duty to God. . .

[from “Song of Myself,” section 32, Walt Whitman]

Why can I not be like them?  Because they live in this world-time, and God has placed eternity in our hearts [Ecclesiastes 3:11].  Isn’t that amazing that that great poet would say exactly what Solomon has avowed?

We seek to accept—follow the philosophy, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”  But it does not work.

This world can never give

The bliss for which we sigh,

‘Tis not the whole of life to live

Nor all of death to die.

Beyond this vale of tears

There is a life above.

Unmeasured by the flight of years,

Eternal in the God of Love

[“O Where Shall Rest Be Found,” James Montgomery]

God has placed eternity in our hearts, and we cannot deny it or escape it, no matter what the atheist says or the pseudoscientist or the false philosopher.  It is a part of us.  We cannot deny it.  In the quiet of the night, there’s a voice that speaks in our souls.  Sometimes there’s a wistful strain of music that brings eternity to our minds.  Sometimes under the vast infinitude of God’s sky, its great incomprehensibility brings eternity to our souls.  Sometimes sorrow bows us in prayer whether we will or no, and what do we do in the presence of death?

God has placed eternity in our hearts [Ecclesiastes 3:11].  And would God do that to mock us and to ridicule us?  Does God sit in the heavens and laugh at our prayers and hopes for something beyond the grave?  Does God look down on an Abraham who leaves his country—seeks a city whose builder and maker is God? [Hebrews 11:8-10].  Does God look down upon an Abraham and scoff at what he does?  Does God in the heavens look down upon a Moses who cries, saying: “Lord, if you will forgive their sins—if not, blot my name out of the Book of Life?” [Exodus 32:32].  Does God look down upon a Moses and say, “What inanity?”  Does God look down upon a David as he pleads, “O God, I acknowledge my sin.  Cleanse Thou my heart?” [Psalm 51:2-3].  Does God look down upon David and say, “What foolishness?”

Does God look down upon a Simon Peter going out to weep bitterly [Luke 22:61-62], and say, “What a baby, what an infant?”  Does God look down upon a Paul who says, “These things do I suffer for Jesus’ sake?” [Philippians 3:8].  And does God say, “Such foolishness and idiocy?”  Does God look down upon a John whose exile for the testimony of Christ [Revelation 1:9] and say, “Surely a man ought to have more sense than that?”

Does God look down upon Ignatius, fed to the lions in the Coliseum and says, “He is good food for the lions?”  Does God look down upon Savonarola, hanged for the testimony of the Lord Jesus, and say, “Any man ought to have more sense than that?”  Does God look down upon Cranmer, burned at the stake, and say, “He deserves such a tragic catastrophe?”

Does God sit in the heavens and laugh and mock at that eternity?  That hope, that prayer, that longing that He places in our hearts?  Is that God?  Does life end in annihilation and meaningless and in nothingness?  The life of our Lord, crucified, has it no meaning?  The life of the saints who were martyred, empty?  And the very invitation to salvation and eternal life in this Book [John 3:16, 10:27-28], is it foolishness and idiocy?

God says in one of His beautiful psalms, God says in the twenty-fourth Psalm and verse 14, “The secret of the Lord is with those who reverence Him” [Psalm 25:14], who love Him.  There’s an answer in God.   And that answer is made plain in the hearts of those who love God.  God reveals to them meaning and purpose in all of the providences of life.  And God speaks to them in answered prayer and in the longing of their souls.  I tell you truly, without that intelligence from heaven the whole world and all history, and your life and death, are nothing but confusion and darkness and incomprehensibility.  It is disaster and darkness without Him.

But oh, what purpose and what meaning the Lord has placed in life for us!  One of our great exponents of the faith; if we are hereby chance, an unplanned biological accident on this planet, then life has no meaning.  There is no cosmic significance.  There is no inherent right or wrong.  There is no hope for life beyond the grave.  But humanity is not an accident and life has profound meaning.  This is because our creator whom we call God deliberately put us here, endowed us with a spiritual nature.  This not only separates us from the animal world but gives us the capacity to know God and to do His will.

Those of us who are Christians point to an event that staggers the imagination.  Christians affirm that God, the all-powerful Creator of the universe, became a man in Christ Jesus [John 1:14].  He taught God is love [1 John 4:8]; that He is willing to forgive us when we commit our lives to Him [Luke 6:37].  He offered us hope of an eternal heaven [John 14:3].  I believe that He is the answer to every individual’s search for meaning.  Does life have any meaning?  Does it have any purpose?  Is there anything beyond the grave and beyond the dust of death?  We find it in Jesus our Lord.

May I close as the Bible closes.  The Bible closes with Revelation 21 and 22:

I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old first heaven and the old first earth with all of its tears and death and frustration and sorrow were passed away.

And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the dwelling place—the living place—of God is with men.

And God Himself will be their God.  And God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.

[Revelation 21:1-4]

There will be no more death, no more graves, no more funerals; no more age, no more frustration.  All things are new.

And, sweet people, that is the real world, not this one.  This world is temporary and will pass away.  That is the real world.  This life is temporary and will pass away; the real life is that.  This body is temporary, will age, and die, and turn to dust.  My real body is the resurrected, glorified house of God [1 Corinthians 15:40-50], made without hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1].  And my real home is not on Swiss Avenue.  My real home is in heaven [John 14:3; Philippians 3:20].  It is there.

I am a stranger here.

Heaven is my home.

Earth is a desert drear.

Heaven is my home.

Sorrows and dangers stand

Round me on every hand.

Heaven is my fatherland.

Heaven is my home.

[from “I’m But a Stranger Here,” Thomas R. Taylor, 1836]

Our real life is not here.  It is there.  “God hath set eternity in our hearts” [Ecclesiastes 3:11].  And to give ourselves to that faith is the sweetest, dearest, privilege in all this earth.  And that’s the open door God extends to us now.  Welcome, a child of the King, an eternal, loving servant of the living God, and in this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, to open your heart to the Lord; to come into the household of the faith; to belong to the family of Jesus; to love and worship and praise God with us, come, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.  This is God’s day for me.