Is Life Worth Living?
This question weighed on me hard in my pre-teen years, when I became painfully aware that people die. Our family went through numerous pets, and almost all of them ended up “put to sleep.” My parents’ marriage died when I was eleven. Not long after I watched my mother slowly die, ravaged by a cruel disease. Once I was old enough to understand that death awaited all of us— including me! —I pretty much lost my innocent childhood enthusiasm.
I was a gifted student, but, under the shadow of death, what was worth doing, really? Why get A’s if you end up dead? Death is like the weather. Everybody complains about it, but no one can do anything about it.
This is why I like the writings of the Jewish king, Solomon. Solomon wasn’t somebody who needed a religious crutch. He was rich, handsome, powerful, intelligent, and creative. But, by his old age, having drunk life’s wine to the fullest, he had the same questions I had.
What’s Worth Doing…Really?
In his book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes, Solomon looks life and death squarely in the eye. What's worth doing, he’s asking? “Whatdoes man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes…The sun rises, and the sun goes down…All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3-5,8-10).
Work? No matter how hard we work, nature ignores us, and calmly chugs on without us. Stimulating experiences? We are serially bored by what once entertained us. Fame? Fleeting. Partying? A stupid waste of time, “What use is it?” he says (2:1-2). Major creative endeavors? “I considered all that my hand had done,” King Solomon said of the considerable accomplishments of his lengthy reign, “and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind” (2:11)! I can’t take any of it with me, and the people who take control of my stuff after me will probably wreck it!
What about transforming the world through politics? Can’t we line up behind a great leader and save the world? Solomon’s experience was that, after all the cheers die down and the banners stop flying, we still find evil where justice ought to be (3:16). There still is official oppression and corruption, the tentacles of which may snake to the very top (4:1, 5:8-9). The human race is still selfish and crazy (6:7). We are definitely not the change we were looking for.
What To Make of Solomon’s Outlook?
I’ve come to like Solomon’s realistic outlook. He equips me to deal with life as it really is. Wishful thinking does a lot of damage. I don’t want to hurtle off the edge of a cliff, thinking it was a stairway to the stars.
He was a pessimist about humanity, but an optimist about God. He credited the unseen hand of God for the gifts of good work, good food, good thoughts, and good times (2:24-26). He believed in a final reckoning of good vs. evil (3:1, 12:14). He wrote that it’s still better to be good and wise than evil and stupid (8:12-13). A happy marriage is a gift from God (9:9). Each person has an immortal soul which answers to God at death (12:6-7), not transitioning out into an endless loop of cosmic amnesia.
So Solomon excels at helping us get our brains straight, in view of the darkness of man and the shortness of life. But what about hope, and life beyond death? Only one man passed through that gate, then came back—Jesus Christ. Solomon was realistic about life, but Jesus knew more. He knew that the darkness could be turned to light.
Solomon ultimately faced death, just as we do, but only Jesus chose to die: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (John 10:18). Understand that He claimed to be able to bring Himself back to life. This He did, three days later.
Why did Jesus die? Jesus said: “I came that they [those who believe] may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Human evil is what makes the world the way Solomon knew it was. Death—earthly and eternal—is the price that God’s holiness requires as the just punishment for our sins. The eternal life Christ offers carries you above and beyond Solomon’s simple realism. God will take your guilt away, and break death’s power over you, because Jesus walked through death’s door and came back again alive. He offers that same victory to all those who put their trust in him: “Whoever hears my word andbelieves him who sent me has eternal life. Hedoes not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
If God loves us, and through Jesus Christ we can overcome death, then life is worth living. If you are not familiar with Jesus Christ, I urge you to study his life and teachings, and decide for yourself whether he is the Son of God. If you know Christ’s story, I urge you to believe in him, and place your full trust in him alone for forgiveness and everlasting life.