Sometimes when I write, the words come easy, they seem to flow from brain out of my fingers onto the keyboard of my trusty iMac. But not this time. You see…what I want to write about is something that my culture (21st century Australian) constantly lies about. And before I point the finger at my culture, I have to point the finger at myself because it is a lie that in my heart I often want to believe, often do believe and at times are afraid not to believe.
It is the lie that says it is my right to expect to live to a ripe old age and not have any health problems. The lie is every where and our media and our TV promote youth, vitality, vigour, virility, health, happiness and the sick and the dying are hidden, except for those tragic deaths of the young which are pumped on our screens.
What I find strange though, even though so many people believe this lie, even though the lie is everywhere; the truth is everywhere also. Hospitals are continually full; the amboes queue up at hospitals awaiting to unload patients to the emergency wards; funeral directors are constantly busy, and every single church bulletin in every church around the world has names of people who are sick or dying on a prayer list. Every week as I write the prayer points for our church, as I visit the sick, as I visit the dying, I am reminded of the lie and I am reminded of the truth.
Life has an ever-present fragility to it. We are like glass. We crack…we break…we shatter. I should not expect to live to a ripe old age and expect to live a life free from sickness as if it were my right. Moses understood the reality of fragility, he makes this observation in Psalm 90:10.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble:
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
So how do we live in light of this reality?
- Remember your Creator – now. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes saw the reality of life. And he gives great advice to us:
Remember your Creator
Have a look at Ecclesiastes12:1-5:
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim; when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint; when men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.
Here we see what our culture tries to hide, the reality of fragility. The teacher chronicles the physical wearing out that comes with aging, weak legs (v.3), muscles losing their strength, (v.3); the losing of teeth (v.3), failing eye sight (v.3). And that is just one verse! He goes on to list other ailments that will come, insomnia, deafness, fear of the outdoors, fear of heights, fear of unseen dangers, failing libido. Of course there are medications that can help stave off certain things, and even prolong other things. But there will come a time when we will be too blind to find the tablets, too weak to open the child proof lid and even if we have the strength your mind will be confused by the other 40 pills you have to take.
Remember the Creator! Remember your Creator the Teacher says; before you become an old, deaf, blind, hunchbacked, immobile, frightened, toothless impotent insomniac and remember the Creator before death comes.
Look what the teacher says in verse 6-7:
Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Meaningless! Meaningless!“ says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!”
Remember God because without him life is meaningless, futile, transient and vain.
- See the lie of our culture for what it is – just that – a lie. We live on the other side of Genesis 3, we live in a world where everyone sooner or later will get sick and die. A long life free from illness is not our right and if God in his kindness does grant us a long life free from illness then this is due to just that, God’s kindness. God owes us nothing. One of my heroes JC Ryle in his book Practical Religion wrote a very observant and poignant chapter entitled simply entitled Sickness. He writes:
Sickness is everywhere. In Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in America; in hot countries and in cold, in civilised nations and in savage tribes – men, women and children get sick and die… Sickness comes in a variety of ways. From the top our head to the sole of our feet we are prone to disease. Our capacity for suffering is something fearful to contemplate. Who can count up the ailments by which our bodies may be attacked. It is not so amazing to me that men die so soon, as it is that they should live so long.
J.C. Ryle was an amazing man of God, but although God used him mightily as the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Liverpool in the 19th century, he was no stranger to the reality of fragility. Not long after the birth of his first daughter, his wife died leaving him to raise her alone. He married later, and was widowed a second time leaving him with five children to raise alone. Twice widowed by the age of 43. He never saw health and old age as something that was his right. He was right.
- Don’t lose heart – Although God owes us nothing, he has given us so much! He has given us the incarnation, death and resurrection of his Son, he has given us the promise and assurance of eternal life to all who believe. And through Christ we have a wonderful assurance that all the troubles we face living outside the Garden have a beautiful purpose. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he reminds them of why he and the other Apostles do not lose heart in spite of very hard difficulties. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 he writes:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
What wonderful truths! What a wonderful Hope! What a wonderful Saviour!
Christ overturns the reality of fragility! Through the person and work of the Lord Jesus our fragility is temporary, there is something much greater to come, something so glorious that cannot be compared to anything we experience here and now. And that day will come, when the reality of our fragility will be our reality no more.
Post Script: There is a wonderful and appropriate prayer that I pray each morning that comes from the Book of Common Prayer. It reads:
O Lord our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who has safely brought us to the beginning of this day: Defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance to do what is righteous in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Each day of life is due to our Sovereign God who by his grace and kindness has brought us safely to it. My encouragement to you is to make this prayer your own.