The Pursuit of "Empty Things"
"And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty."
- 1 Samuel 12:21
It's so commonplace to hear complaint over being "too busy." I can't even tell you how often I hear (or even say), "I'm just so busy right now! Work is insane! I can't possibly stop, not even for a moment." I guess that's why we're all shocked, slammed to a halt and reeling, when we hear of someone's death, particularly if they were young and "in full bloom." It's so bizarre how detached we are in general to the thought of death. Cognitively we know that we are going to die. We know that eventually everyone dies. This is the cycle of life. Birth, growth, death. And Yet. . .
And yet, we still feel shocked or cheated when it happens on us unawares, as it were. It's so normal, on the other side of a funeral, for everyone to whisper how unreal it feels. But shouldn't death be just as real as life. Shouldn't it be just as anticipated, just as expected, just as planned for as a new birth? I don't mean to be morbid, but I feel a bit confused on this one. It seems that so many people live life as though it would never end. As though they would always be around to put off loving and spending time with their family until a more convenient moment, never wondering if that moment is even promised them. When I was 17 a very dear friend of mine died in a house fire. She was just about to graduate and move off to a University. She had friends and plans and hopes for the future. I remember everyone says how shocking it was for someone so young and full of life to fade in burst of a moment. But I guess it's really not that surprising. I mean, if we lived amidst the elements, as it were, fighting off disease and death by lions (granted extreme, but still the reality of many people both in the past and present), wouldn't we see death as a daily companion? And wouldn't it change what we valued, what we pursued, what we cherished? Would we still gauge one's success based on his appearance and salary? Or would it be rather measured by his love and of those who loved him in return?
It's a commonly repeated platitude that on their death bed, no one ever regrets not spending more time at the office. Unfortunately, before that final scene, we spend so much time, effort, and anxiety at and for that one place.
Last night, in the vain hope that listening to 1 Samuel would help Jude fall asleep, I listened to several chapters about the ascent of Saul to the throne and his rapid abandonment of obedience to God. He spent so much of his time pursuing his enemies in equal force with that of his vanity, that he gave little if any thought to God and his will for Israel. I think that's how most of us, myself included, view life. If we could know the day of our death, how it would happen and when it would be, I can't help but think we wouldn't be so foolish with the time that we have. And yet, in a way, we do know. We do know, with time-tested assurance, that just as there was a day of our birth, there will eventually be a day of our death. We know, but the knowledge does little to affect how we live. How often, how sadly consistent we are at chasing "empty things" over full ones.
Samuel's farewell to Israel should be constantly on our hearts, I think, in both reminding us of mortality and of the one who conquered it, in whom we have the gift of salvation:
"And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. . . Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you." - 1 Samuel 12:21-24
And then, with our own fast-coming mortality in mind, we should feel joy, not fear, thinking only of his beauty and the great gift of our all too soon reunion with him forever.