Shepherding Memories

Ecclesiastes 1:11 “There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow” (NIV).

Observation: Most of Ecclesiastes is a commentary on life’s futility. The author’s range of vision was necessarily limited to what he could see. His experience told him that all we strive to accomplish, indeed our very existence, will be little remembered by those who follow.

Application: Something deep within resists this core message. To think my accomplishments will not be remembered leaves me frustrated and troubled. Even the Titanic’s builder is remembered, though his labor rusts at the bottom of the Atlantic.

But surely there are other grand accomplishments at the hand of impactful men and women: vast cities, mighty buildings, wealthy corporations, helpful ministries. Indeed there are. But for every great city today there was a Pompeii; for every mighty building there was a Twin Tower. For each wealthy corporation there existed an Enron, and for even the most anointed ministry there is today a YMCA or a Harvard. The writer’s point is sobering enough to give pause to anyone seeking to build something lasting here on earth. Things wind down. They break. Purposes change, hardly ever for the better.

It is true that “even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.” Think of it this way: after a loved one’s death we apply vast energy and emotion to shepherding memories of the deceased. Things they touched take on reverential meaning. We preserve their handwriting, voice recordings, and photos. Gradually though, those things are released to the ages and the reality of his or her life assumes our view of the third or fourth generation previous—we know they existed but no matter how intently we gaze into the eyes on the faded daguerreotype, we cannot conjure actual life.

Yet hope remains. Their life is in me. That is certain, because I have passed it on to future generations. Life is a permanent condition, surviving the death of great cities, ministries, and even my body. In Christ, whose life I now live, life had no beginning and will have no end. In Him is the only permanence, the only prominence I can ever achieve. “Prominence in Christ,” you say? Surely not. Yet Jesus says to me, “You have stolen my heart …my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes” (Song of Songs 4:9, NIV). In that glance there is unending remembrance, prominence enough for all eternity.

Prayer: Jesus, give me a heart that is fixed on pleasing You above all. Give me a desire to move my focus from temporal to eternal things.

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