A Time to Die (Meditation on Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, part 1)

Within the human heart there exists, though we try to deny it, a longing for permanence.

The great poet John Keats wrestles with this longing in his most famous works:  “Bright star, Would I Were Steadfast as Thou Art” and “Ode to a Grecian Urn” reveal his yearning to be free from this world of change, transience, and death.

And yet, as this passage makes so painfully clear, we are in a world of times and seasons.  Everything does have its time and purpose under heaven.  We see the seasons of our lives pass from one to the next.  We may yearn for things to stay as they have always been; we may fix our tenacious grip upon the season in which we are currently living; we may cling with desperate fervor to a reality that is already receding in the background.  But make no mistake, seasons come and seasons go.  This is the teaching of Ecclesiastes.

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Platform of the Skulls at Chichen Itza, Mexico
Photo by Russell Smith

“A time to be born … a time to die.”  Everything that follows is commentary.  Every change listed in this famous poem indicates a little death.  Every passing from one season to the next is a call to die to what has been, to let go of the season we’ve presently been enjoying.  To become a college student, we must die to being a high schooler.  To become a husband or wife, we must let the single life pass away.   To become a parent, we must bury the freedom of childlessness.

When we cling to a season past its time, then we create an idol.

We’re like the child hiding the snowball in the freezer so that we can keep winter around for a while.

We’re like the 30 year old still wearing his letterman jacket to high school football games.

We’re like the 50 year old going to bars trying to pick up 20 year olds.

The prophet Springsteen sang it best:  “Time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of … glory days.  Well they’ll pass you by, glory days, in the wink of a young girls’ eye… glory days.”

Ecclesiastes teaches us that every release is also an embrace of what is next.  When we let go of the idol of the season of life we desperately want to preserve, then we are free to embrace what is to come.  Every little release happens as an embrace of what is to come.

And this teaches us how to die.

This prepares our heart to grasp Jesus’ teaching: “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:35-36)

To gain his life a man must lose it.  Every little release is a little death, and is therefore a further embrace of the grace of Jesus.  This prepares us for the final release, when we let go of this world and say, “into your hands I commit my spirit.”

And in so doing, we gain the permanence of eternity.  Yet paradoxically, we’re trained for it by the transience of this life.

Soli Deo Gloria

Russell

Note: this is part of a series of meditations on Ecclesiastes.  See the whole series via the menu option at the top of the page.

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4 thoughts on “A Time to Die (Meditation on Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, part 1)

  1. I like that: release and embrace. In spite of the pain associated with release, a positive attitude of “embrace” for what’s next can make the transition easier and quicker. And as much as I liked that truism, I LOVED your conclusion: Every little death is preparing us for the final release; the transience of this life prepares us for the permanence of eternity.

    Uplifting writing, Russell!

  2. Russell, I LOVE THIS! Oddly enough, I was just reading an article by a psychologist in New York City (said like the guy in the ad for Pace Picante sauce!), and she wrote that when she let go of the past she made room for the future. It resonated with me when I read her article, but your essay is so much better since it includes the Christian aspect of letting go. It is especially wonderful for a woman coming to terms with her older self. =) =)

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