“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).
IT IS A BITTER TRUTH TO ACCEPT, BUT WE SIMPLY DO NOT HAVE, ON OUR OWN, WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO DO WHAT LIFE CALLS UPON US TO DO. No matter how intelligently and energetically we press onward, sooner or later we find ourselves frustrated, unable to meet life’s demands and unable to find the real fulfillment of our own desires. Unaided by anything outside of time and space, we discover that despite short-term successes, the long-term verdict is that we’ve been “grasping for the wind.”
Our culture generally responds to the realities of human weakness by suggesting that we adopt a “positive mental attitude.” Our bookstores are stocked with best-selling volumes that, in one way or another, show us how to create a positive “vision” of reality and then live upon the basis of that thinking. And this is wise advice, as far as it goes. There is much value in thinking positively if it motivates us to respond to external reality in more creative ways. But we should not forget that most of reality is independent of our thinking. If we face ultimate problems greater than our human efforts can solve, thinking positively will not change that fact. Facts are stubborn things, and simply believing we can survive will not make it so.
Positive mental attitude often amounts to little more than “whistling past the graveyard.” Like the young boy walking past the scary graveyard on a dark night, we whistle cheerfully to try to convince ourselves we’re not afraid. But who are we fooling? All the courageous pretense in the world won’t change the truth that this world is doomed, along with all its efforts and accomplishments. Unlike the boy walking past the graveyard, we have real cause to be afraid. Our fears are not imaginary.
We should not, however, think about all of this merely in terms of the human race or even of our own society. These are very personal matters. Apart from God, our own personal collapse is inevitable. If we walk alone, our steps will someday stumble.
“Eventually, we will come to say to God, ‘Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You’ (Psalm 73:25). Anything else is doomed to failure. Life is too short, strength too limited, competition too fierce. The long road wears us out” (Bernard of Clairvaux).