“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof…” –Ecclesiastes 7:8
Some of the smartest people I knew in high school didn’t share the characteristics that are normally expected of ‘smart’ people. They didn’t earn good grades, and many of them in fact were high school dropouts. More often than not these were the ‘stoner’ class of people, and spent a good portion of their time in the dark alleys and remote locations of the high school campus. Based only on the outward appearance it was easy to judge these people, as their dark clothing, slicked back hair, and generally unkempt appearances seemed to defy all social norms. However conversing with some of these people revealed that their behavior and manner of dress was really a response to the evils they perceived in society, and the vanity they perceived in life.
Whereas other students spent the majority of their time and efforts mastering the subject material before them, these spent the majority of their time considering the more important questions of life and death. While most people either fail to consider or ignore the reality of death until their last moments, these were fixed on the reality of death before them, and couldn’t find the motivation to participate in a shallow system that focused only on the attainment of material wealth. Having considered all possible paths that life could take them, the end result was always guaranteed - the material possessions that they worked for their entire lives would not buy them happiness, and this final realization would only be followed by death itself. Having foresight of the cruel path that lay ahead of them, these found solace only in the mind altering drugs that would dim their consciousness to the emptiness of reality.
King Solomon of ancient Israel was also aware of this painful paradox that is called life, and having realized the emptiness of it all wrote in his later years, “…Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.”-Ecclesiastes 4:2 Solomon, unlike any other person lived his life as an experiment to determine what the very best path to follow was. You could say that he thoroughly explored opposite ends of the spectrum in the way of lifestyle choices - both as the ‘workaholic’ who spends all of their energy obtaining material goods, and as the ‘stoner’ who spends all of their energy seeking temporal pleasures. Both options Solomon found to be concluded bitterly with death. The ‘workaholic’ was not even able to enjoy what he labored for all of his life, and upon death someone else would inherit all he labored for. The ‘stoner’ would only enjoy pleasure for a season, until his once youthful frame would no longer be able to enjoy pleasure - afflicted with the pains of old age, and upon death face the judgment of God. (Ecclesiastes 11:9)
In light of the emptiness of both extreme modes of living, what did Solomon determine was the best way to live? On the surface Solomon concludes that the best way to live is a hybrid between both extremes, that a person be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. In this mode of living, the ultimate end of life is not obtaining material goods or experiencing pleasure, but a balanced life of work and recreation. More importantly however, Solomon concludes that the entire purpose of our existence on earth is to, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”-Ecclesiastes 12:13 Because death is the ultimate conclusion of all our lives, this should be our greatest priority.
If we follow Solomon’s wisdom, the purpose of our lives will ultimately be to serve others. Jesus summed all the commandments of God into one principle, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”-Matthew 22:39. Our purpose on earth is to love others! Solomon recognized this when he said, “There is one alone, and not a second; yes, he has neither child nor brother: yet is there no end to all his labor; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither does he say, For whom do I labor, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, and a sore travail.”-Ecclesiastes 4:8 In the end our lives will not be measured by the degree to which we have served ourselves, but the degree to which we have served others.
Read more articles by Jesse L. Smith or search for articles on the same topic or others.