“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ ” (Luke 12:20).
THERE IS NOTHING THAT PERTAINS TO “LIFE UNDER THE SUN” THAT IS NOT “VAIN.” This is the clear message of Ecclesiastes. Unlike the life to come, this life is fleeting, transitory, and ephemeral. Whatever we may accomplish and whatever we may accumulate of an earthly nature, all of it will be left behind when we die.
As a description of earthly life, the word “vain” does not refer to that which is evil but to that which is temporary, whether good or evil. When Solomon said, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14), he did not mean that there is nothing good that may be done; he meant that there is nothing about this world that is permanent. There are things to be done and things to be enjoyed here, but we must be ready to leave them all behind.
Many people work hard to get the kind of life they want in this world — and many end up getting it. Some acquire wealth or celebrity status. Others achieve historical greatness. Others are content to pursue the simpler forms of satisfaction and happiness. Whatever anyone might want to pursue, the advantages of that pursuit are available. As far as “life under the sun” goes, most of it is there for the taking, whether a person acknowledges God or not.
But when we die, every one of those advantages is wiped out. In their lifetimes, you might have preferred Winston Churchill’s circumstances to those of his chimney sweep, but in death, the bones of one would have looked very similar to those of the other. As Julia C. R. Dorr put it, “Grass grows at last above all graves.”
So while life under the sun lasts, we had better be giving some thought to life beyond the sun. Death is coming, and we need to ask whether we’re doing anything that won’t be erased by that event. Only one such thing is available to us, of course, and that is godliness. Paul said that “godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). The only “profitable” thing that matters, then, is godliness. Every other kind of benefit will disappear at death.
“Death is the grand leveller” (Sir Thomas Fuller).