Does the World End when You Die?
Does the world end when you die? For many, the answer is yes. These people would say that the world came into existence when they became aware of it as an infant, when they could identify themselves for the first time. These same people would hold that the world comes to at end when they die. Whether the world existed before they were born for others doesn’t matter. And if it exists for anyone afterwards, it doesn’t matter. Spend your kids inheritance while you can; they will probably blow it anyway.
The Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes was fixated on his own death. This gloomy theme appears throughout the book. Death had come to the Preacher long before he took his last breath. Everything that he undertook in order to amuse himself crashed when he started thinking about the fact that he had an appointment with death.
In this text, the Preacher compares wisdom and folly. As long as there is life, he notes that there is a day and night difference between them. The wise man can see where he is going, but the fool goes blindly on. This is what conventional wisdom says to us as well. But once death is introduced into the equation, what is the difference for the person who thinks that this life is all there is. The wise man and the fool die, sooner or later. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes does not reveal much hope in life after death, and even these slim possibilities are dyed with gloom and judgment. So the Preacher becomes fully depressed and asks the question: “Is this all there is?”
The result of all his wearisome labor was that he would suffer the same fate as the fool. In many ways, he was even a bigger fool than the fool himself. The fool is blind to the uselessness and despair of life where the wise man can see where life is leading to and what that means to his dreams under the sun. The fool under the sun can eat, drink, and be merry until death surprises him. The wise man under the sun knows that darkness is coming and that he and the fool are both blind to what comes next.
The Preacher like many in this world tries to make the best of it. He can leave a legacy. His fame can outlive him. But history renders fame into dust just like decay for the body does. Soon most of one’s works, however great, are rendered to the gloom of the library that few read. Most people have not attained to the greatness of Solomon, yet in this country, how many people could write an intelligent paragraph about him? Fame dies by a thousand cuts. As more and more people have to be squeezed into the history books, then more and more has to be cut out from the distant past. The Preacher knew this too. And each time he remembered it, he was cut to the heart with despair. We read in the last passage how egotistical Solomon was. A greater punishment cannot be inflicted upon an egomaniac that to become irrelevant. The egotist wants to be remembered for good or for ill. And if the truth be known, we all have this in us, we just lack the means of becoming famous. This is why we have spectacular acts of public violence. People will do just about anything to be recognized, whether for good or ill.
The Preacher also knows that preserving his legacy through his own children is useless too. It is proverbial that the heirs are famous for squandering the legacy given them. We can only think of the younger son in the story Jesus tells of the prodigal son. And preserving one’s legacy through building projects prove to be futile also. What has become of the ten wonders of the ancient world? Of them, only the shell of the great pyramid remains. The same will happen to all the wonders of today’s world as well.
The Preacher for all his wisdom is brought to utter despair. He has no answer for death, which for him is the ultimate, and therefore, only reality. This is the view from under the sun for countless people. Even the Christian gets caught up in this worldview. The question I want to ask is whether there is an alternative view. What is the view from God in Heaven?
The Scriptures present the alternative to the human dilemma. The Bible teaches us that the Triune God created us in His image. God also gave us the lordship over all the earth, to subdue it. Death was not a part of the original equation for Adam and Eve. It was only when Adam and Eve disobeyed God that the curse of death came upon us. We lost control over the earth in that murder, wars, thorns, and thistles have plagued our existence since. By the fall, we fell from being over creation to under it. The very earth and sun which we were given authority over became our lords. They were excluded from the life of God and the world as they knew it to a cursed earth.
This curse affected our thinking to where we could not see beyond the sun. This limited our intellectual pursuits as well. As Paul reminds us, death became our ruler. The oppression of death casts a ghastly shadow on life in this world. We do whatever we can not to think about it. We try philosophy as an escape, we like the Jews answering Jesus blindly assert against all reality that we have free will and can change things and solve all the world’s problems. Then we grow old and cynical and die. We escape by being workaholics or alcoholics until out tired and abused bodies tire and break. But the only universal truth for someone who does not believe in the God of Scripture is that we will die, assuming of course, that we ever lived.
From the Scriptural point of view which comes from above, from the God who created both us and the universe, death is not an absolute truth. It was not before the fall, and for the believer, death is in the past and only life in the future because of what Christ has done for us. Even our physical death is not a certainty as some will still be alive when the Lord returns. They like those who dies before that blessed event will be raised and changed. Because Jesus the second Adam paid the penalty of death for us, death no longer holds its chilling grip upon us. Death is not the end of the world or even our world. For the Christian. Physical death is just part of the process we go through to eternal life, a process which God works out for our good. Therefore, the Christian ought to be fixated upon life, and not death. The Christian should cast off the old and tired thinking and put on the new thinking that is made unto Christ. For the Christian, there is something new under the sun.
When it comes to sharing our faith with the intent of leading others to Christ, we must argue from our position. This is our lifeline when we go out into the world, that we know and are grounded in the truth. Some of the people we meet may be a lot more worldly smart in under the sun thinking. As Jesus notes, the people of this age are always smarter than the children of the Light. But you can use the rantings of the Preacher to show them how futile their worldly wisdom actually is. You can show them that the more worldly wise they are, the more miserable they will become.
You need to remind them that they have death all wrong. They think the world ends at death. But we must remember what the Bible teaches. As long as this age exists, death is appointed to all. But after this, is the judgment. In this way, the plight of the unbeliever is even worse than the dismal picture that even they paint, even more horrible than the Preacher thought. This is when we can tell them the good news that Jesus died for us. When one becomes a Christian, their thinking is transformed. They can now see the unity and purpose of reality through the eyes of God. Even though we are far from comprehension of God and His purposes, we can believe what He has revealed to us as sufficient. We do not need to know it all. What we need to know is to apprehend that God has made promises to us in the Scripture. And the Holy Spirit, the purposeful wind and not the wind that stirs up the dust, directs our paths and applies the Truth to our hearts and thinking.
We can tell people that even though they seem as nothing and are considered fools in this world by the wise that they are the true thinkers. Their wisdom leads to death and despair. The wisdom we get from God leads to life and hope. Who then is the wiser? We do not boast in this new wisdom. We have no right to go on an ego trip of our own. We possess this wisdom as a gift from God, just like Solomon had received his wisdom as a gift. We must be careful not to fall into the pit that Solomon fell by being prideful. God’s people should be talking about God’s grace and our redemption in Jesus and not about ourselves. This, Paul teaches us. The example he mentions is that the Apostle’s and messengers of the good news do not proclaim themselves but Jesus Christ the Lord. If we will do this, we will not fall into Bunyan’s Slough of Despond.
This is the good news we need to take to the world.