KEY THOT: The Teacher (NIV) or Preacher (ESV) makes a pessimistic observation about life: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (v.2, NIV). In the ESV the same verse reads, "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity." The author of Ecclesiastes was King Solomon, the wisest and richest king of Israel--probably in the same league as Sultan of Brunei or Bill Gates. During his reign, gold was the most common metal: “None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon” (1 Kings 10:21). He has had all the three W’s associated with success: wisdom, wealth and women: “I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man” (Ecclesiastes 2:8). Nevertheless, his sad conclusion is this: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
And that’s what most Singaporeans (Christians included) are pursuing--vanities. The inevitability of death should bring back some perspective on life’s purpose: “The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event (death) happens to all of them” (Ecclesiastes 2:14). Death is as certain as life. Death is the station we must all disembark one day--and we cannot bring our luggage with us. We have to leave all our accumulated earthly treasures on the train of life. We can’t take anything with us when we disembark from the train of life, except ourselves.
When we lie down inside the coffin, there is only enough room for our dead corpse. Whatever is added to our coffin are just tokens -- they will not survive the fire. If we work and toil only for such treasures while we are on earth, we will have no legacy--only regrets. Like King Solomon, we would echo his words in our dying breath: "Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!" One of the top five death bed regrets heard from dying patients is this: I wished I hadn’t worked so hard. These patients regretted not seeing their children grow up and missed their childhood, youth and also their partner’s companionship. They wished they had spent more time with their loved ones. But regrets will not change the past.
While we cannot change our past, we can still change our future. Today, as we ponder over the inevitability of death, we ought to ask ourselves what kind of legacy we are leaving behind when we die. If it’s just material wealth, we will die with regrets. But if we leave behind lives transformed by Christ who will live to bless others because we have invested our time in them, then we have no regrets. Not only will they continue to live out our legacy, we will meet these lives again when the day of the Lord comes.
Of course, our first and greatest investment should be in our children—spending time to disciple them and to ensure that Jesus Christ will continue to be lived in them and lived through them. They will mostly outlive us and our goal as parents is to ensure that their lives will be spent investing in the lives of others to transform them similarly by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Parents who simply focus on earthly goals are investing in children who will one day regret, not rejoice. And we would have done them a disservice--even if they were to become kings or presidents or prime-ministers. In the coffin, they all look the same.
Lord Jesus, we know that apart from You, we can do nothing of eternal worth. We pray that You will help us evaluate our life—how we spend our time. Grant us wisdom to live without regrets when we die. Amen.