I spoke last Sunday on Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 and thought you may be interested in some observations from that. I will return to my series on God as Judge soon.
The passage describes old age, or so it seems to me. The alternative is that it is describing a funeral. Either way, it is saying to young people, ‘Remember God while you are young’, and three times he says, ‘…before’ all the stuff that happens when you are old seems to destroy the evidence that life can be enjoyed.
Joy is quite a strong theme around this end of the book. He tells young people to delight in their youth, and ‘also’ to remember God in their youth (9:9; 12:1), and then the editor of the book says the Preacher sought to find delightful words to help us (12:10). Clearly, when he talks about old people saying thay have no more delight in life (12:1), he is saying that young people need to find where true delight is before the discovery of it becomes difficult.
There are lots of things for young people to enjoy, well most young people anyway. It is during this time that they do themselves a favour by living their enjoyable lives before God, according to his law, and discover the depths of life that will never fade.
Young people, and all of us, are not just left to have a good time, we are told to do so! It seems that real joy is a choice rather than just a happening. If joy is sought in things ‘under the sun’, the material world, there will never be enough of them to satisfy us, and certainly not enough to last. Life gets more difficult with old age. The good things of this world are not so much the source of our joy as the occasion for it. A good thing received, with thankfulness to God, becomes the source of ongoing joy, not just an event. We need lots of these experices while growing up in order to go on having joy in old age.
On the other hand, if we have sought meaning and joy merely in having and doing things, old age is proof that we have been grasping at a vapour. ‘Where is the fun I used to get out of this?’ ‘Why doesn’t this seem significant any more?’ With this observation, the Preacher brings his argument to a close by repeating his opening claim, ‘All is vanity’ (1:2; 12:8). Finding delight in the creation of itself is a lost cause, and he has driven his last nail into the coffin of this hope by talking about where this hope ends.
Psalm 23 is an example of finding joy now that lasts into the future. The writer recounts what God has done for him, leading him to food and water, restoring his life and leading him in right paths. But then he sees the possibility of dark valleys looming and says God will still be with him. He is persuaded that goodness (what God called the creation at the beginning) and steadfast love (what God promised to his covenant people) will always be with him. His earlier experiences told him what God was like and what he would do. His future experiences will not be able to alter who God is or how much he can be trusted.
As believers in Christ, we have every reason to remember our Creator, while young, and when old. Surely, God is with us! Christ is God with us! It is his presence that gives our present life quality, delight and permanence. He is not with us in things as they should be but in things as they are. He has entered into the sorrows of our hearts, borne our griefs and sorrows, endured their wrongness and judgement before his Father, and risen from the dead to give us peace. Christ gives us abundant life—both at work and in pleasurable company. He enters into our sorrows and joys agains as we pray, and gives us joy.
Of course, old age comes with increasing troubles. The question this passage poses is, ‘Is that all there is?’ The obvious answer is, ‘Not if we remember our Creator!’ There is much to enjoy now, and not least, the fact that our present life includes a foretaste, and is preparation for, a new heaven and earth. It’s good to get going on this as soon as possible.
If you’d like to hear more, you could listen to the message. You’ll find it online at http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?sermonID=1214132216541.
You may also like to listen to Don Carson say some parallel things, at http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=9813224462. It’s based on James 1:12-25.