Thinking about dementia has made me ponder death. Dementia is generally part of old age and aging is a reminder of the reality that we are all going to die. This is something that people don’t usually want to admit to themselves because it is a scary reality. So this post is about death and the futility of the grave. But don’t worry; there is hope at the end of it.
The book of Ecclesiastes is all about the futility of life. Life is “meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccl 1:14). People try to make life meaningful through pleasure, work, advancement and riches, but ultimately each of these are meaningless, so concludes the writer of Ecclesiastes. This is true because we all die in the end and what we do will not endure. “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun” (Eccl 9:5-6).
Death and the grave make a mockery of everything we do. People try to avoid this conclusion by talking about leaving a legacy for the next generation or being remembered for your work. But Woody Allen said it memorably: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.” When you die there is no more pleasure or work or advancement or riches. There is nothing to look forward to and nothing to achieve.
The writer of Ecclesiastes expounds a frank portrait of the futility of existence for people who must inevitably die. Whatever you do, good or bad, will always end in death. This is not a good thing. And we do not want to think about this. But we must. “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure” (Eccl 7:2-4).
This futility is the end of every person who is outside of Christ. Without Jesus we have nothing to look forward to but death and the grave which follows it. Yet God is not content with the situation that we must all die because of our sin. He would prefer that we live. “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23). So God made possible the solution to death, the resurrection of the dead.
The Son of God, the Word of life, became flesh (John 1:14). He lived a human life, experiencing all that humans experience. He died a human death and went into the grave. There he experienced the futility of human mortality. He could not extricate himself from the grave. He had to wait in faith for the Father to raised him from the dead and bring him out of the grave. In the grave Jesus lived out the words of Ps 16:8-11 (quoted in Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:25-28), “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.” He trusted the Father in the futility of the grave and was raised to life for our sakes (Rom 6:4-5).
The resurrection of the dead is the hope of every Christian. Because of Jesus we will be raised again. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Rom 8:11). Because we will be raised again, what we do now is not pointless or meaningless. “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).
Consequently, nothing that happens in this life is pointless if it is done in Christ. This includes what we do in the dependency of our older years. It includes what we do after we begin to forget things and people that matter to us. It includes the years when there seems to be nothing to look forward to because achievements are apparently in the past. Jesus makes life worth living and he gives us the guarantee of a future. With such hope, may we live “for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).