The death of Apple founder Steve Jobs from cancer may well go down as the news story of the year, or at least be close to it. His death at the age of 56 has certainly caused many to momentarily reflect upon the fact that “Life is short”. David in a contemplative moment wrote of this fact in Ps 144:4 that “Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow”.
Some will say “It’s sad, but that’s life, his time was up”. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes said “there is a time to be born, and a time to die” (Eccl 3:2). Ecclesiastes is a journal of the teacher’s deep thoughts on the meaning of life.
Ecclesiastes opens up with the words, “Meaningless, Meaningless “ or “Vanity of Vanities” , depending up your preferred translation. Other word’s used include “Futile”, “Pointless”, “No purpose” and “non-sense” and “nothing is worthwhile”; you get the picture.
But is that what all that the teacher was trying to get across in these opening words? A friend of mine, Derek Hanna, a few years back now, when preaching through Ecclesiastes suggested there was greater depth to these words. Derek suggests “The Teacher isn’t saying life is meaningless… he’s saying it’s brief, fleeting, like the wind – here today, gone tomorrow. Life is transient, passing by.”
James (4:14b) also took this view of life:” For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
The Hebrew word behind what the NIV translates as “meaningless” also can be used to refer to breath, and is word used by David, in Ps 144:4 when he said “Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow”. And when used as a proper noun, it is the Hebrew word for Adam and Eve’s second son, whom we know as Abel. Remember his life from Genesis (Gen 4:1-16,25-26 ; In a sense his life was like a vapour, fleeting, transitory, just like a breath or passing shadow. I don’t think we could say his life was meaningless; the author of Hebrews described it by saying God commended Abel as righteous.
Steve Jobs also got that life was short. In a 2005, about a year after his first diagnosis with cancer, in a speech to graduating students at Stanford University, he referred to a quote that had made an impression on his life at age 17: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” He says he looked into the mirror every day since and asked himself “”If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?””
Job’s said that remembering that he’d be dead soon was the most important tool in his life ”because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important…(its) the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose….there is no reason not to follow your heart…..your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” And that Jobs did and he will be remembered as a great man, legend even, by the secular standards who changed the world.
Jobs view was that “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” John Piper, like Job’s also came to a defining moment in his life that also led to the message “Don’t waste your life!” that has become arguably his signature battle cry that he preaches around the world, as he recently did in Brisbane. And they both believed it’s worth risking everything in order to ensure your life is not wasted. But here’s where the similarities end.
Jobs view of “Don’t waste your life” was all about being and achieving what you wanted in this life: “Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice….. Everything else is secondary.”
Piper’s view on “Don’t waste your life” is the very opposite. It is based on someone else’s “dogma” – Christ, the living Word, revealed to us through the scriptures. He believes that scripture teaches u s that to live a life that is not wasted it to live a live that magnifies the supremacy of Christ.
In Isaiah 43:7 God speaks of the fact he created us and why he created us:
“everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
James 4:13ff, which we looked at a little earlier, reveals that the fact that our lives are under God’s control. We should not boast about what we are going to do tomorrow, but live our lives, with inner acknowledgement that our plans for tomorrow will only come to pass if God will’s them so.
For Piper, the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:20-21 are the crux of what our life is to be about:
“20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”
The teacher in Ecclesiastes, whom we met at the start, came to the following conclusion about life (Eccl 12:13-14):
13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
The teacher did not have the full revelation of Jesus Christ and the work that he would do on the Cross at a future time. But he did a reasonable job of it in the end.
And what is it that makes Christ supreme above all things, that our life should be focused on bring glory to him, whether in our life or death. We a given a clear picture of Christ, and his work on the Cross, over everything else throughout the book of Hebrews. In opening words of the message (Hebrews 1:2-4) we read:
“2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
The Westminster Catechisms begin with the question “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s Chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully enjoy him forever. The psalmist (Ps 73:24-28) writes:
“24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. “
John Piper tells of a wall plaque that was in his home when growing up. It contained the words of C.T. Studd:
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Steve Jobs only life is complete, ours is still a work in progress…we still have the opportunity to do what will last for all eternity.
References and Resources:
Hanna, Derek: Ecclesiastes 1 – “Perspectives on Life”
Jobs, Steve: “Commencement Speech to Graduates at Stanford University” – Full Text as posted by Kevin Voigt
Jobs, Steve: “Commencement Speech to Graduates at Stanford University” – Video on You Tube
Piper, John: “Don’t Waste Your Life” – Download a free copy
Piper, John: Speaking at Queensland Convention Centre on the occasion of the 100th Anniversay Celebrations of Qld Theological College – Video posted on Facebook