Living Life Backward - How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us To Live in Light Of The End
Living In Reality
I pile my belongings on top of the car wash counter. One hot glue gun, two packets of multi-coloured paddle pop sticks and a little black book. The lady processing my payment eyes my hot glue gun, my two packets of multi-coloured paddle pop sticks and my modern looking book on death. “Oooooh, creative.” She touches the cover of my book, “What’s this one about?” “Um,” I scramble, having only just bought it, and searching for my wallet at the same time, “Thinking about the fact you’ll die, so that you can live life better - It’s in the Bible.” I smile. She gives me a look, “How do you want your free coffee?” she asks. Her eyes darting back to the safety of the glue gun and the paddlepop sticks.
As I sit in the cafe and wait for my extremely dirty car to be dazzlingly cleaned, I push the craft stuff to one side thinking about the reaction of the lady at the counter. Reality really does bite. Why think about death when you can make something colourful with hot glue, right? All the same, I do like the dark stuff and start reading Gibson’s little black book.
Here are some lines that quickly draw me in:
“I am going to die. By the time you read these lines, I may even be dead.’ (p.11).
“I recently built the Millenium Falcon...The Lego version, that is.” (pp.50-51).
“No one who tastes death up close and personal is ever the same again.” (p.98).
I like a book that thumps with reality. And Gibson’s book, like the Bible book of Ecclesiastes, is full of hard hitting truths delivered at times in an almost casual way. Living Life Backward is an exposition on Ecclesiastes, not a commentary, with the strength that it’s short, deep and brimming with personal stories and cultural references, making it read to me like a collection of sermons. Really good ones.
You love it or you hate it
Opinion is divided over the book of Ecclesiastes. And I’m not talking about anything scholarly here. People either love it or they hate it. If you punch it in to Google you will find ‘Why Ecclesiastes is my favourite book of the Bible’ and equally ‘Why Ecclesiastes is my least favourite book of the Bible.’ It’s polarising. Having never felt drawn to it I spoke to a friend who is definitely of the former camp and she really sold it to me. Ecclesiastes is not just her favourite book of the Bible, it’s a family favourite - her grandfather loved it too, and it was read at his funeral. She says that Ecclesiastes is the book that speaks to her about all the bits of life that we’re very familiar with. The routine of it, the longing for something more, our strong emotions that make us who we are, and tries to make sense of it. My friend says, “Ecclesiastes helps me to hold life in balance. It takes us from the big, complex, challenging questions of life - many of which can never be answered on this side of Heaven - to the nitty gritty of everyday life - eating, drinking, working, ageing. It helps us to see all these things in perspective and ultimately leads us to hand our entire lives over to Him- trust and obey Him, even when we don't understand why!”
Written For You
Something new I didn’t realise about Ecclesiastes (and all of the wisdom literature in fact) is that they’re written for young people. The preacher says ‘my son’ in the epilogue of Ecclesiastes (12:12). And it makes sense that young people have the most to benefit from such an enormous project on the meaning of life when they’re waiting at the gate so to speak. Ecclesiastes can seem a bit ‘old fashioned’ but as we journey through Gibson’s book we’ll see how incredibly modern and timeless the preacher’s wisdom is.
I remember being 18, how exciting it was to have the HSC behind me, how ready I was to leave my small High School world and go on to university, get a job, move out of home, make my own meals and call my mum to do my laundry (What a kind lady she is!). All of my thinking at this stage of my life went in one direction: forward.
How different for my 18 year old brother who celebrated being in remission from cancer on his 18th birthday. I remember the big family meal at the Italian restaurant. The enjoyment on his face holding his young niece. The hopeful plans for uni life and beyond. And the sober realisation that that can change at a moment’s notice. At 18 my brother’s plans went in multiple directions. He was dependant on God and on prayer. What a joyful night that was in the Italian restaurant. My brother lived until he was 19.
We Live Life Forward But Ecclesiastes Says, ‘Go Backward’
“Left to our own devices, we tend to live life forward. One day follows another, and weeks turn into months and months into years. We do not know the future, but we plan and hope and dream of where we will be, and what we would like to be doing, and whom we might be with.” We agree and nod our head, yes, that all sounds very sane and then Gibson swings the argument into reverse: “Ecclesiastes teaches us to live life backward. It encourages us to take the one thing in the future that is certain - our death - and work backward from that point into all the details and decisions and heartaches of our lives, and to think about them from the perspective of the end. It is the destination that makes sense of the journey. If we know for sure where we are heading, then we can know for sure what we need to do before we get there.” (p.12).
The gospel message of Ecclesiastes is this: get to know Jesus now while you live this life ‘under the sun’. There’s more joy and purpose in that than anything else.
I’m looking forward to exploring more of the themes in Ecclesiastes and its helpful wisdom for living in the coming weeks. You might like to pray this prayer with me:
Dear Lord, as we explore Gibson’s book, and with it the Bible book of Ecclesiastes, we ask that you would help us to live in reality. May we not flinch from the truth of your word. Please allow the reality of death to transform our day to day and vision for the future. Please forgive us for the delusions we have. Please help us by your Holy Spirit to live joyful gospel-shaped lives in this fleeting time we have ‘under the sun’.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Katie loves books, baking and beaches. She teaches Scripture at two local High Schools and leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church in the inner west community of Sydney. Katie is looking forward to commencing part-time study at Moore College in 2019 and would love your prayers for God to continue to grow her to pass the message on.