American playwright George Bernard Shaw is generally credited as the source of this telling quotation. He wrote, “Youth is the most precious thing in life; it is too bad it has to be wasted on young folks.”
As Ecclesiastes comes to a close, we can sense the urgency in Qoheleth’s speech as he addresses the young as well as the young at heart.
Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning. When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. Everything still to come is meaningless.
Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 11:7-10, NLT)
This text first and foremost affirms that life is a gift. With the dawning of each new day, we should pause and be grateful to “be on the right side of grass.” Even though the aging process brings additional challenges, there is cause for rejoicing.
Qoheleth is particularly mindful that those who are young should make each day count, living life to the fullest. It is important to note that he is not saying, “have a good time, but judgment is coming, so behave yourself because God is going to make you pay for your fun!” I believe he’s saying that old age is coming and it will feel like judgment. (How many people do you know have joint replacement surgery due to playing sports when they were young?) This is the reality of the cycle of life when we were young, then then we age, and eventually die.
Those who are young need to live life with one eye on the horizon. Youth will fade, and denying that reality only will lead to great disappointment. While our mind and spirit may remain youthful, our bodies just can’t keep up. Older people know that from experience. Young people need to acknowledge this and prepare for it. Growing older is not bad, per se, it’s just different.
The section concludes with the final exhortation to live life with the fullest. Life is not meaningless is in the sense that it is worthless or without purpose. It is a shame that youth has to come to an end. But don’t give up! Instead, lean on the wisdom and experience you have acquired and not your brute strength.