As Ecclesiastes comes to an end, the Preacher transitions from his exploration of life’s absurdities to a chapter of exhortations for the reader to consider. Scholars are divided as to whether this section should be taken as an apocalyptic view on the end of all human life (Peter Enns, Iain Provan) or if it should be understood as one’s own personal mortality. In keeping with the tone of the book’s entirety, I have opted to take these seven verses as a direct address to individuals.
Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly. Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint. Remember him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets; before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire. Remember him before you near the grave, your everlasting home, when the mourners will weep at your funeral. Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7, NLT)
The topic sentence of the paragraph returns us to the aforementioned “under the sun” mentality that has stirred many of Qoheleth’s frustrations. By using “Creator” instead of “God,” he reminds the reader that the solutions to our under the sun vexations come by reorienting our lives to an “above the sun” perspective.
The admonition to not forget is followed by six usages of the phrase “remember Him.” Clearly, he wants us to begin our faith formation while we are young before we age. Notice the picturesque language he used for the aging process. Those of us who are older can certainly identify with this imagery!
So what would motivate a person to seek and secure faith in their youth versus waiting until they are older or even near death?
Let me illustrate it this way. In the American economy we learn to get some level of education and seek gainful employment. As a part of our gainful employment, we consider health insurance and retirement investments. Insurance and retirement investments serve us throughout the entirety of our employment, protecting us from potential present losses and preparing us for the day that we will no longer be able to provide for ourselves and our family. Those who have faithfully contributed to retirement plans are able to work until they are 65 years old, and then can spend their remaining years investing their time in whatever interests they may have. If a person spends all the money they earn on their lifestyle without consideration of retirement they will eventually find themselves in financial need. Can they live? Yes. Will it be hard? Yes. Did it need to be that hard? Not necessarily.
The journey of faith we undertake can be challenging. Beginning our faith journey during our youth is an imperfect science. When we are young we are prone to make presumptions and to procrastinate. But as we age, we gain wisdom an experience that accrues like interest on our spiritual investment accounts. Our spiritual markets may be volatile at times, including both gains and losses. But we continue to walk in faith as a daily disciplined exercise, knowing that in time we will slowly and surely continue to build it. We may need some mid course corrections, for sure. However, there is a difference between making a mid course correction and cashing it out.
I think that metaphor is a good way to think about this passage. Time is like money. You can spend it anyway you want, but you can only spend it once. Once you adopt a standard of living, it’s hard to change.