A young man came to W. E. Gladstone (the second longest serving ex-Prime Minister of England back in the  mid-19th century) and said, “Mr. Gladstone, I would appreciate your giving me a few minutes in which I might lay before you my plans for the future. I would like to study law.” “Yes,” said the great statesman, “and what then?”

“Then, sir, I would like to gain entrance to the Bar of England.” “Yes, young man, and what then?” “Then, sir, I hope to have a place in Parliament, in the House of Lords.” “Yes, young man, what then?” pressed Gladstone.

“Then I hope to do great things for Britain.” “Yes, young man, and what then?” “Then, sir, I hope to retire and take life easy.” “Yes, young man, and what then?” he tenaciously asked. “Well, then, Mr. Gladstone, I suppose I will die.” “Yes, young man, and what then?” The young man hesitated and then said, “I never thought any further than that, sir.”

Looking at the young man sternly and steadily, Gladstone said, “Young man, you are a fool. Go home and think life through!” (told by Leonard Griffith, This is Living – Abingdon Press).

Billy Graham was once asked what surprised him the most in life. He answered, “Its brevity”. Our time on planet earth is indeed short in the light of eternity as the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us. It’s ‘hevel’, that is, life is like smoke or vapour, beyond our control. He uses the well-known poetry in Ecclesiastes 3 (verses 1 to 8), both in its content and structure, to illustrate this. Indeed, while we get to live and experience life in all of its variety and richness, while we have life goals and aspirations and make real and responsible decisions to achieve them, there is so much about the shape of our lives that we cannot control.

What’s more, our life is short and we will die. So, the author of Ecclesiastes instructs (from verses 9 to 14) to first of all, approach life with gratitude, reverence and awe as a gift from God. Secondly, to live life ‘as an expression of faith, not of self-fulfilment…not a life centred on the self, but a life that is turned outward towards the neighbor, asking what is “good’…” (Ian Provan). Finally, while there is a time to be born and a time to die, there is a day of judgment (verses 15 to 22).

If there is no God, then everything that happens in my life is just a series of random, meaningless events but if there is a loving God who is also just, then this gives my choices meaning and weight even if I am not nor will ever be in possession of the instruction blueprint on life. David Gibson elaborates this point beautifully, ‘…it gives my experienced losses and injustices a voice in God’s presence. What is past may be past, but what is past is not forgotten to God, and because he is in charge and lives forever, one day all will be well. Every single thing that happens will have its day in court’.

In the words of Maximum Decimus Meridius (from the movie Gladiator), ‘What we do in life echoes in eternity!’. Perhaps something to ponder over during Lent?

Christ in me, the hope of glory!