When I first got my hands on this book I was excited to see some well-known authors: Don Carson, Tim Keller - I love Tim Keller! But my favourite writing in the book is here. ‘Youth’ by Matt Chandler is my favourite chapter.
There’s a realness here that I can relate to. It’s edgy. Maybe it’s because at 33, I’m still pretty young. But it’s much more than that. I felt an instant connection with the author describing all the young peoples’ funerals he had officiated at. The memory of fare welling my 19 year-old brother will always be fresh. It will always have a rawness. I know. I’ve lived it. Death is awful. But a life cut short is worse still.
Matt (I’m going to call him Matt) reflects on the year he preached through the book of Ecclesiastes, and hones in on Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:8. It is an extraordinary piece of writing. In one poetic sweep it sums up the essence of life, the brevity of it, the swiftness with which we can move from youth, our newness, in all the health and energy and enjoyment of that time to the final phase, not the third age (the long awaited retirement Western society gears us up to look forward to), but the fourth age, a phase where about the years we will say “I have no pleasure in them”. (Ecc 12:1) Until “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the Spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecc 12:7)
The imagery is beautiful and shocking: the silver cord snaps, the golden bowl breaks, the pitcher shatters at the fountain. These solid, reliable things, these things we thought we could count on, they breakdown too. But don’t miss the point. Matt wants us to get underneath what is being said here. It is not a hopeless message.
The point, which Matt zeroes in on, and the author of Ecclesiastes builds and builds to, is that we will be judged. It says it right there in the passage: Enjoy your youth. “But know that for all these things, God will bring you into judgement.” (Ecc 11:9) There’s no escaping that. Our job is to remember our creator. But Matt works hard to help us get underneath what that means. In revealing so much about his own personal struggles: with cancer, and encounters with those in his congregation who have suffered and lost people they loved, to untimely deaths. He does a fine job of peeling back the layers, and of encouraging us to get underneath this passage. Underneath our sufferings and struggles, underneath our rejoicing too. And, “to give credit where credit is due”. (p.109)
As Matt says, “I am under no illusion that any of us is guaranteed to see thirty years-much less sixty, or seventy, or eighty. This time we have, this little sliver, really is a gift from God.” (p.104.)
I think that all the time. Every time my husband makes a funny joke I know my brother would appreciate and build on and make ten times funnier. Every time I see a smile in one of my kids that looks a bit like him. Or when I see myself in the mirror with a worried look, a family look that we as siblings all share. His life was cut short, right at the beginning of his young adulthood, at the special and enjoyable time talked about right here in this passage. Why did God do this? I have no idea. I know that he works all things for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28) And I know, with certainty, that my brother is with Jesus now and knows a closeness to Him far better than anything I have experienced so far. I know this because Jesus promises the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) My little brother is in paradise. He is where I am headed. I need to remember where he is and where I am going and to joyfully remember my creator in the days of my youth.
If you feel like the Bible doesn’t have anything new to say to you in your pain and suffering please pick up this book and read this chapter! Read page 106 where Matt talks about how he didn’t respond perfectly to the news he had cancer. How stricken he felt walking in to the homes of bereaved parishioners. He talks with so much realness and pain about how tough it was. But he also shares how because of living through those experiences, reading Ecclesiastes is deeper and richer for him now, he feels it. Matt wants us to rejoice fully in all that God has done for us in Christ, to avoid shallow rejoicing, in things that can be taken from us. And to get underneath where these good things come from in the first place! His hope at the end of the chapter is that we would be a person unshaken, no matter when sickness or death or disaster come knocking. That in Christ we would stand firm and rejoice. This chapter is a good encouragement to feel our feelings and then to be quick to respond rightly to God.
The contributor for this month has blogged a tiny bit about the experience of losing her brother at 19. If you would like to read more click here.