Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” — Ecclesiastes 12.1
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it,” Seneca quipped in his work On the Shortness of Life. “Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present.” In the same breath, “meaningless!” shouts the wisdom of Ecclesiastes; “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”
Seneca cautioned that life is too often “wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.” Maria Popova links the great philosopher’s work to the modern contrast of business and “the art of living.” In Seneca’s words:
Your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply—though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last.
You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire… How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality!
To this the author of Ecclesiastes couldn’t agree more. Why squander our days, our energy, our passions on the meaningless pleasures of this world when we are designed for eternal glory? Why settle for earthly riches when heavenly honors await us? The answer—in Genesis, as in Seneca’s day, as in our time—is that we become consumed in our labor. Seneca writes:
It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously… New preoccupations take the place of the old, hope excites more hope and ambition more ambition.
The calling of Ecclesiastes is to reorient our lives to our labor and give ourselves daily to the one that matters most in this life. Christians don’t retreat from labor, nor become consumed or defined by labor, but align our earthly passions with God’s desires. For, as Ecclesiastes concludes, “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.”