Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave where you are going there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. Ecclesiastes 9:10.
I guess one could look at this sentence and see despair or bitterness but I see more an encouragement to live with all our might. We have this life that is either given or just happened to us so what else is there to do? Look at the previous verses where Solomon directs his readers again to eat, drink and enjoy their lives with their wives and children. There seems to be a pattern here we miss much of the time. Whether we miss it due to religious nonsense or misguided spiritual enthusiasm I’m not sure, what I do know is most religious people get their “religion” mixed up with living. Instead of the religious convictions helping us live more fully we let it be a hindrance.
What did God make life for? I mean what purpose does it serve? What every creative being does: create and enjoy. Look at the command He gave Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.” Does that sound like a restriction to you? If the original directive poured out a life which was at its core is full of creative positive things, what are we doing with the gift Christ gave us at the cross?
Jesus came to redeem us. The word redemption means to buy back or restore through payment what was sold. Christ bought us back from something we sold ourselves into, slavery to death, which in His view wasn’t just physical but spiritual, social and mental. God breathed into the clay and humans became a living being. While I don’t claim to grasp the significance of that in its entirety, I do get that whatever we were before wasn’t equal to what we became. God created life and pronounced it very good; anyone who condemns the human physicality outside of the sin destroying it misses the lesson of redemption. Paul’s declaration that we will be raised with Christ’s new body gives us a clue as to what we can expect this redemption to look like.
Over the years I’ve often wondered what we are made of—the various parts of us. The general explanation seems to be we are body, soul and spirit as if these three things are separate ingredients to life itself. I’m no scientist nor am I a theologian so I know speaking my opinion probably means very little to those who read this blog, but I found this explanation which works for me and might for you as well.
“God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24. Genesis 2:7 claims the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now we have Ecclesiastes declaring that in the grave there is nothing for us but existence—if that. If there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, then what do we have? One of my favorite questions to those who claim we are eternal beings is, “If that’s true, do you remember your existence before you were born, outside the body?” Some scoff at me because immediately I’ve referenced a “heathen” idea but the question is valid in this context. If our spirits are eternal, we should have memory of pre-existing the body. Besides my uncle who believes, as many do, in reincarnation, none of my Christian friends have any memory of a past existence.
I believe the human spirit is eternal but we are like a computer chip or software which contains all the raw essence of being with no memory or storage to reference identity. The physical brain makes up the up the “hard drive” of our being thus allowing us to find identity in our history—i.e. experiences through memory such as habits, relationships, education, etc., without which we are simply raw spirit/soul. Knowledge is stored in the brain bringing a sense of connection to the world around us. This is why when we see Alzheimer’s take over a person’s brain the memories become all jumbled up and the person’s access to their identity gets confused. It’s also why we see mentally disabled people struggle to operate in the world around them with any sense of logical interplay. Without memory or the synapse to connect those memories we are intelligent novices, babes without input or output; nothing but a dry sponge.
All that said, I don’t understand eternity or the afterlife. As much as I’ve studied the subject over the years I still have questions—which some Christians would tell me I must just take the answers to on faith. My problem with relegating everything I don’t understand to “faith” is our plausible deniability for the truth. What we don’t understand or grasp must be dealt with honestly, not swept under the philosophical rug. Take some time to listen to those who develop brain injuries or some other condition which affects their access to the brain’s memory centers and you’ll see what I mean. Did these people lose their intelligence? Dp they suddenly lack I.Q.?
You see the problem? Simplistic answers don’t solve the riddle nor do they get us any close to understanding. I will not accept any explanation without questions because I find wholesale acceptance foolish and counterproductive. Something happens to us when our bodies deteriorate, something profound. A spirit without its body loses access to memories of anything it (genderless on purpose) experienced on earth precisely because the combination of spirit and body create the living being. So that relative or friend we lost to death can’t remember us without a renewed body, such as the one Jesus was raised with which carried the scars of the cross in it. The scars remind us, which speaks of memory for eternity.
I won’t pretend to have answers I don’t. I won’t tell you I understand death or the afterlife because I don’t. What I will tell you is that God has it in hand and that the resurrection of Christ solved the problem of death and futility—both are a reality without Him.
Our lives are fleeting in the eternal scheme of things so we must take every opportunity to create a life worthy of being alive. Though I love stories in the form of books, movies or TV, I find too often we live vicariously through these stories instead of creating our own. If Jesus came to give an abundant life, numbing our minds by watching others live should be a crime. I’m not against listening or telling stories as a shared experience but the lack of active participation in the story being written all around us. What I am against is the mind numbing day to day drudgery which no one offsets with passionate pursuits.
If the condition of dementia, psychosis and brain damage give us a clear enough picture as to what it means to be a living being, then death of the body means death of identity, history and meaning. What God promises to resurrect is identity and meaning washing away our sinful history and making all things new. Will we remember the fact of our redemption? Yes. Does that mean we will remember our life on earth? I don’t know. But what I do know is that we have the opportunity to live to the full here—without reservation or hesitation.
Whatever we find we are able to do—or even impossible without extreme effort—we must do with gusto. The Bible gives everyone the green light so go for it!