If I Were God I’d Make the Good Times Last Forever
If I Were God I’d Make the Good Times Last Forever
Ecclesiastes 1:1 – 2:11 & 1 Peter 1:18 - 21
The unexamined life is not worth living
In 399 BC the Athenian philosopher Socrates was put on trial, charged with the very things that we heard last week, the Apostle Paul doing in that same city of Athens;,
Saying that the gods of the city were not enough!
And introducing new gods!
If you were with us last week, you’ll recall some of the response Paul got to his message of the good news that God has been made clear in Jesus;, some people wanted to hear more,
Some people ridiculed him,
And quite a number became followers of Jesus, believing the evidence that he really is, God made known, the only hope we have, that the penalty we’ve incurred for ignoring God can be paid.
Socrates though, had a very different outcome. The majority of the jurors found him guilty of these crimes against the city-state, and they sentenced hime to death.
And those of you familiar with the history know that he was forced to drink hemlock, and in a sense become his own executioner.
But in a scene made famous through the writings of his student Plato, Socrates offered his defence in court, including what are perhaps his most well-known words, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
The unexamined life is not worth living.
It’s quite a statement, isn’t it?
Not, the unexamined life, is less fulfilling than the possible alternatives,
Not, the unexamined life, is less exciting than a life of reflection and contemplation,
But the unexamined life is not worth living.
That’s a pretty bold statement. But I guess if you’re about to be executed you figure you can say what you really think!
And its one of those sayings that rolls off the tongue quite easily,
I’ve seen it on motivational posters and coffee mugs,
But do you know, I think there’s a degree of truth in there.
Think about our statement for this morning;, “If I were God, I’d make the good times last forever”, and maybe you’ve thought that at some point in your life. Maybe you’re here this morning specifically because you reckon you’d do exactly that, if you were in charge of things!
Now, there’s no doubt that we enjoy lots that good in life, relationships,
Fulfilling jobs, some of us,
Wonderful family, some of us,
The ability to spend money on things we enjoy, holidays, hobbies, mental stimulation and social interaction,
But it never seems to be enough.
It comes to an end before it fulfils,
Our loved ones are taken away from us before we’re ready.
Why can’t these things that we enjoy, go on for ever?
Or put it a slightly different way, which may be how you’ve asked the question,
Because these good things in life are only temporary,
Because death cuts them off at the end, do they have any meaning or significance?
Or am I just wasting my time?
Why don’t the good things of life actually seem to satisfy?
I’m always left wanting more!
So, what’s the point?
When I was studying at theological college, with one exception, every single student there had a crummy car. There was one lady who was an overseas student. She was married to an investment banker, and she drove a Daimler,
But all the rest of us, if you’d looked at the college carpark, you could have easily have thought you were looking at a wrecker’s yard, all these old bombs so rusty they were just held together by the paint!
They didn’t start when it was cold,
They leaked when it rained,
And they rattled all the time,
But one time, my friend Glenn, told me he’d found a solution to the problem of the rattling. He said, “just adjust the dial on the dashboard.”
And I was like, you’ve got a dial on the dashboard, that you just turn it and you can’t hear the car rattle anymore?
And Glenn’s says, yeah, that’s right, that little dial on the radio, you turn it up and you can’t hear the rattle anymore!
Well, turning up the radio so we couldn’t hear the rattle got us through college, but it’s no way to live life.
Just turning up the noise so we can’t hear the rattles, can’t feel the bumps as I enjoy the good things of life, but still find myself unsatisfied.
Trying to distract myself, from the fact that deep down, I know there must be something more.
Today we get to listen to someone, who was convinced that we ought to look at life, and ask the big and difficult questions.
The Teacher pushes our assumptions to their logical conclusion (Ecclesiastes 1 & 2)
He’s called the Teacher.
Now, we have a number of teachers in our family here, most of whom are looking very refreshed and relaxed on this middle weekend of the school holidays!
But this guy’s not a teacher in the sense we probably imagine.
In the very beginning, Ecclesiastes chapter 1, the Narrator, who is the other voice who we hear in this book, he introduces the Teacher, saying, The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
Then down in verse 16, the Teacher himself says, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me;,
And then in chapter 2 he talks about the great wealth he acquired, the vast number of wives and other women, all very clear references to King Solomon, who ruled over the nation of Israel about 900 years before Jesus.
So this, slightly unusual book of the Bible, Ecclesiastes, is the wisdom, the life-lessons, if you like, of King Solomon, being narrated by someone else.
And so if we’ve got questions about how we get the most out of life,
Here’s someone who’s thought lots about that,
Who’s had the means to indulge in, really every kind of good thing that life has to offer,
So our questions about life and significance, and what happens to all the good things of life when we die,
And how much is it actually going to take to find significance, this guy’s already thought of them.
But he’s not the kind of teacher you go to to ask your question, and he gives you an answer. He likes to be the one asking the questions!
My year 12 maths teacher was a great man named Mr Leske. He was a brilliant maths teacher. And I can say that confidently, because I passed year12 maths!
But often when I was trying to work out some maths problem, I’d say to Mr Leske, “what’s the answer?”, and he’d say those words that every student dreads, “what do you think the answer is?” And when I’d eventually come up with something that resembled an answer, he’d say, “well, let’s take that, suggested answer, and see where it leads us.
Where do we get to if we follow your line of thinking?”
And where we got was usually somewhere I didn’t want to be!
But that’s the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. He pushes us to the logical conclusions of our positions.
He asks why do you think the way you do?, and are you prepared for where that line of thinking will take you?
“Everything is meaningless.” Good stuff is never enough (Ecclesiastes 2:1 – 11)
And let’s be honest, at first read the Teacher’s perspective on pleasure is pretty depressing. In fact, the Teacher’s perspective on everything is pretty depressing.
Verse 2 of chapter 1, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
Now, we who live in the Adelaide Hills have an advantage here, because we have an insight into his language.
Meaningless, the Hebrew word that he uses is hebel, it’s vapour, the breath that comes out of your mouth on a cold Hills morning.
You breathe out, you see the vapour in the air, my kids and I always pretend we’re dragons breathing smoke!
But you know what that’s like, don’t you?
Next cold autumn morning when you do that, try capturing that vapour,
Put in a box,
Or maybe a paper bag,
Bring it inside with you when you get home,
And then tip it out on the kitchen bench.
Kind of study it, and enjoy it there in your kitchen,
Make the most of it.
You can’t do that, can you?!
You can’t capture it,
Hang onto it,
Make it last.
Everything, the teacher says, including all the good things we enjoy in life, they’re (BREATHE), meaningless.
I’m sure you heard the sad news during the week about the Brisbane woman who took her own life on a cruise ship in the Pacific. And in one news article, somebody made a connection to the iPhone factory workers in China, because a terrible number of suicides had occurred there, and these very words were how those factory workers described their situation, “They feel that life is meaningless” their colleagues said.
Or think about life at the other end of the social spectrum, Jack Higgins, one of the best-selling authors in the world. Over 50 million copies of his books have been bought. He was once asked what he wished someone had told him when he was younger.
His response, “That when you get to the top, there’s nothing there”
Or Boris Becker, 3 time Wimbledon champion. He once said, “I was rich. I had all the material possessions I needed, It’s the old song of movie stars and pop stars who commit suicide. They have everything, and yet they are so unhappy.”
The Teacher’s not the only one to discover that all the pleasures in the world can still leave us empty,
That no matter how long the good times last, we’ll still be wanting more.
I suspect that Becker, and Jack Higgins, and lots of people we know, who are trying to make the good times last, would agree that their experience of life, matches up with what the Teacher concluded in verse 1 of chapter 2, No matter what I try, I still feel empty.
I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless.
How secularism has failed us
Now, the difference between the Teacher, on one hand, and Boris Becker and Jack Higgins on the other, is that the Teacher shows us his worldview.
He tells us exactly where he’s coming from, the angle of view that makes everything seem meaningless.
When I approach life like this, these things are unable to satisfy.
Did you notice, when we read it before, the Teacher’s perspective?
There’s a little phrase there that he keeps repeating, “under the sun.”
So what is life “under the sun”?
Well, look back up at chapter 1, from about verse 5, where he talks about the sun rising, and the sun setting, and then that repeating continually,
The wind, always blowing, never reaching anywhere,
The streams, flowing into the sea, and yet the sea is never full.
In the Teacher’s eyes, life “under the sun” is a closed system.
It’s the here and now, no outside interference.
And this is the way most of our society looks at life isn’t it?
This is the “secularist” approach to life.
Now, let’s just be careful with a couple of definitions, the word secular just means, the realm of things that aren’t spiritual, that aren’t related to God.
So much of what we do is secular.
Buying milk at the supermarket is a secular activity.
Getting your car serviced is secular.
Paying your phone bill secular.
Secularism though, is very different. Secularism is the attempt, to silence faith and faith positions,
To stop people looking at the world, and speaking into the world, from a perspective formed by, faith in God.
Secularism says, you can’t interpret the world, don’t try and explain the world, by referencing God or any kind of spirituality, we’re only going to deal with the here and now.
And, of course, you know, this is the dominant worldview of our age, it’s growing in dominance, and so most of our friends, will, look at the world like this.
We’re told that the only way to look at life is to look at it without God.
And here in Ecclesiastes, the Teacher says, living that way, just looking at life under the sun, in the here and now, without any reference to God, life lived that way is meaningless,
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?
And specifically, he says, pleasure is meaningless.
Under the sun,
Within the closed system of secularism, pleasure is meaningless. There is no purpose or point, to the things that we enjoy,
And no matter how much you get, it will never satisfy.
And he’s done the research to prove it.
Back in 1984 Barry Marshall, an Australian scientist deliberately infected himself with the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori, in order to prove that that was the cause of stomach ulcers.
Put your body on the line, but he got a Nobel prize for it in the end, so I guess it was worth it!
Well, the Teacher tries the same sort of self-experimentation, but in a way that seems a lot more fun!
Verse 1 of chapter 2, he says to himself, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good, and then he lives out every Australian’s dream!
He sets out to make the good times last forever,
To find fulfilment in every good thing.
Houses, vineyards, wine, slaves, silver and gold, a harem even.
And we’ll leave the harem aside for the moment, but the rest of it, isn’t that what we want?
Wouldn’t we love this to be our experience?
Just good times,
Being surrounded, by the very things we would choose for ourselves in order to feel satisfied?
Our list might be different from that of a middle-eastern king in the first millennium BC,
Take out the slaves, and reservoirs, and herds,
And replace them with family,
Summer evenings solving the problems of the world over a barbecue, while the kids play in the pool,
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired, 2 verse 10,
I undertook great projects, verse 4, what could make a man happier than building stuff?!
I amassed, the treasure of kings and provinces, verse 8.
Just last week I was reminded that a friend of mine who’s a dentist, diagnosed me with Gas. Not something you expect your dentist to diagnose you with!
But Gas, G A S, Gear Acquisition Syndrome! The desire to acquire more stuff, more musical instruments, and accessories.
It’s a condition that middle class men with credit cards need to watch out for!
But here the Teacher doesn’t resist it, he throws himself into the getting of more and more.
This is the life that lots of Australians long for.
At this point, I reckon we wonder, well, he decided they were all meaningless, but if it was me, maybe I would have come to a different conclusion!
Don’t we think that we had the good times that we long for, that we could have found meaning in all that pleasure?!
What’s that expression? I know money doesn’t buy happiness, but I sure would like the chance to try!
To the average Australian, it seems just a little surprising, that someone could have all the good times they want, and yet, come to the conclusion that really, it’s meaningless.
What do you want to last?
But if you could, make the good times last forever, what specifically would it be that you would want to stretch out and never end?
What are the good times that you want to last?
I reckon if we went around the room, we’d get different answers, but there’d probably be some key themes.
I reckon there’d be relationships,
Our hobbies and pastimes, the things we love to fill our lives with.
I remember once sitting at the dinner table, talking about the things we enjoy in life. And we only had 2 kids at the time, and I said, “look, I’ve got Mummy and Heidi, and Jamie, I am so blessed.” And then the child who was 4 at the time, then started saying things, like, “I’ve got Milo milk, I am so blessed!”
But these things are the pleasures of our heart, are they not?
Our families, our relationships, the presence of those dearest to us.
Wouldn’t I want to sit forever at the dinner table like I did that night with my family, thinking “I am so blessed”
But the Teacher tells me, if I really want the good times to last,
If I want my pleasures to have any meaning or significance or longevity, I need a different perspective,
Because the closed world of life under the sun,
Life as the secularist would have me live it, with no thought of God, and no insight from God, that kind of life cannot give me the meaning or significance we so long for.
So the French biochemist and atheist Jaques Monod, on whose work Richard Dawkins bases much of his writing, Monod states, “man must at last wake out of his millenary dream, and discover his total solitude, his fundamental isolation. He must realise that, like a gypsy, he lives on the boundary of an alien world; a world that is deaf to his music, and as indifferent to his hopes as it is to his suffering or his crimes.”
Whatever you value, or whatever troubles you, is of no significance whatsoever, outside of your own head. That’s what he’s saying.
And C S Lewis, the author, and Cambridge professor, tells us why life under the sun, the secularist approach to life, denies any meaning or significance for our most cherished pleasures.
It’s a long quote, Let me read it to you. let us begin by supposing that Nature is all that exists, that nothing ever has existed or ever will exist except this meaningless play of atoms in space and time: that by a series of hundredth chances it has (regrettably) produced things like ourselves -- conscious beings who now know that their own consciousness is an accidental result of the whole meaningless process and is therefore itself meaningless, though to us (alas!) it feels significant.
You might decide simply to have as good a time as possible. Unfortunately, you can’t, be in love with a girl if you know, that all the beauties both of her person and of her character, are a momentary and accidental pattern produced by the collision of atoms, and that your own response to them is only a sort of psychic phosphorescence arising from the behaviour of your genes.
You can’t go on getting any very serious pleasure from music if you know and remember that its air of significance is pure illusion, that you like it only because your nervous system is irrationally conditioned to like it.
What’s he saying?
If life under the sun is all there is, if the secularist approach to life is right, and nature is all that exists, then the only way you can enjoy your pleasures, is by working very hard at refusing to think about your pleasures!
If life under the sun is all there is, then my experiences of enjoyment and pleasure, are simply random electrical stimulations in my brain,
When I love someone it’s because the chemicals in my brain are forming and breaking bonds,
When I experience pleasure, it’s my body responding to cultural conditioning.
When someone loves me, it’s just their atoms and their synapses and their chemicals swirling around, so why should I get excited about that.
What’s the point?
The only way I can enjoy pleasure “under the sun”, is by shutting my mind to the fact that pleasure under the sun can only ever be just a conditioned electro-chemical response in my nerves.
So the Teacher was right after all!
When you die, where is it all gone?
What’s the value in your pleasures and achievements!
Why even bother!
It’s like a game of Monopoly. You can have all the money, all the property, all the fun and enjoyment that owning those things can give you, but at the end of the game, when the lid goes on the box, it’s all worthless.
And when it’s the end for you, when the lid goes on, your box, all the things you’ve amassed and enjoyed, are worthless.
Whether you’re wise or a fool, a great person or someone ordinary, there’s no difference. It’s just the end.
10 years after you die, who will even speak your name?
Ok, maybe if you’re really famous, someone will name a street after you, but then in a hundred years?
Or if you’re a world leader, sure, you’ll be remembered for a bit longer, but a thousand years.
If Joni Mitchell was right when she sang Woodstock in 1970, if we are just stardust,
If Richard Dawkins is right when he says you’re just “a very lucky accident”,
And if he’s right that the universe will exist for eons after we’re gone, then 10 years, 100 years, a thousand years, what’s the difference?
If our beginning is meaningless, just a chance collision of atoms,
And our end is meaningless, extinguished and forgotten,
Then to have any integrity, we have to say that the bit in the middle, life, is meaningless too.
And if you say, “well I’ll make my own meaning”, you’re an accident of atoms, if you’re a brief moment in billions of years of accidents, what possible meaning could you construct?
So under the sun, there’s no meaning or significance,
I’m just a collection of atoms.
Surely there’s got to be some way to enjoy the good things of life, without having to switch of my brain, and pretend that things are more than they are.
A more hopeful perspective comes from God intervening in the world (1 Peter 1:18 – 21)
Well, there is a more hopeful perspective. Let me read you some words from the first century AD, those words from the 1st letter of Peter that we also read before. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
Here’s the key point of difference:
Christians believe that life isn’t just “under the sun”. Our world isn’t simply a closed system that began with stardust and ends with an implosion.
The Christian worldview, says, there is a God, who frees us from meaninglessness,
Who gives the kind of meaning we could never achieve for ourselves,
Who offers hope, that there is more to life than what we can see and touch.
Life under the sun says, you die, you rot, someone else gets your stuff, what’s the point?
A Christian can say, I have hope beyond death. I believe that my actions, my life, the things I take pleasure in, can have significance, not just in the years that I’m on the earth, but even after my death.
“What we do in life echoes in eternity”
That sounds like it comes out of the Bible, but actually it was Maximus, the hero from the movie Gladiator, but it’s true of a Christian person, and beyond the wildest dreams of the person living under the sun.
In the person of Jesus Christ, God intervenes in our world, so that our lives can have enormous significance, even eternal significance.
How far is that from Jacques Monod’s perspective of being a gypsy in an alien world, that is indifferent to our pleasures and our suffering?
Now, it sounds like pie in the sky, I realise that!
What possible reason could I have for thinking that what I do now, the good things of life today, have any significance beyond the grave?
Well, no reason at all, except one.
There was once a man, who said he could defeat death,
Who said he could give meaning,
Who said he came to give life, and so that people could live life in all its abundance.
And he died.
It seems like a sorry end for someone who claimed to bring life, and to give meaning and significance, to make the good times last forever.
Cut short at 33 years.
But as those words from Peter’s letter say, he was raised from the dead. Again, it sounds far-fetched, but the historians can’t dispute it.
And the picture there with some of its strange language of redemption, is of a sacrifice, a substitute, Someone who stands in for us, because of our rebellion against God.
See, each one of us have tried to leave God out of our lives,
We’ve actually tried to live life, under the sun, without reference to God.
And the penalty for that supreme arrogance of living in God’s world with no regard for God, is death and separation from God.
But Jesus says, I’ll take that.
We’ll do a swap.
I’ll take your death, and you get my life in all its abundance.
It’s a pretty great deal.
And it gives us a whole new perspective.
The right perspective makes all the difference
And the right perspective can make all the difference can’t it?
Remember magic eye puzzles? They were all the rage a few years ago. You stared and stared at the page and all you could see was just a mess of coloured dots, and then just as you could feel a migraine descending, all of a sudden, the picture snaps into focus, and there’s a 3D image standing out of the page.
And then every time you look at it after that, the 3D image is all you can see.
Friends. We’re no longer forced to look at the world as a closed system, with Nature all there is.
We find out that the good times can actually last forever.
That my life and my pleasures can have eternal significance.
But I don’t need to depend on my successes, or my pleasures, for significance,
I don’t need to have more and better experiences, to find value.
Imagine you’d been kidnapped, pretty horrific thing to imagine, but also imagine that someone you know, was able to get the money together, to pay a billion dollars in ransom for your return.
Would you ever doubt that that person considers you significant?
That your life is valuable?
I’ve been redeemed 1 Peter 1, with the precious blood of Christ.
The most, costly price imaginable has been paid for me.
Remember under the sun, the pleasure of dinner time with my family, that “I am so blessed” moment, well, each one of us will die, and that moment is forever gone.
But if my hope is in God, who raised Jesus from the dead and promises me that same resurrection,
Then that moment, those conversations, are an investment in eternity.
I’ll be able to look back on that moment and say, round that table, I wasn’t just enjoying the material pleasures of life, but celebrating a kind of life that even death cannot destroy.
Friends, there is only one way for the good times to last forever, and it’s not by seeing life under the sun.
It’s through hope in God, who raised Jesus from the dead.
It’s through life in all its abundance, a life that starts now.
If you’re living life under the sun,
The world according to the secularist, physical realities and nothing more,
If that’s you, all I would ask you to do is this;,
Listen to Socrates,
Examine your life,
Allow yourself to ask, “do the Teacher’s conclusions about life and pleasure ring true for me?
Where will my presuppositions about life lead me?
If I look at life only under the sun, does that mean I have to abandon any hope of meaning or true pleasure?
And if you decide you need a new perspective, why not make today the day you do something about it?