There is a difference between existing and living–and it has to do with passion. But a passion for life is not enough to be a guarantee that one is truly living life for all that it is worth. There is a fatal deficiency in passion alone.
Jesus once told a parable (Lk. 12:16-21) about a rich man who sought to live life passionately, to the hilt, through his great wealth, only to find that God demanded his soul the very night he made his plans to expand his personal kingdom. God then asked him a most basic question that this man clearly had never asked himself:
“This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (v. 20 NIV).
Centuries before, a wiser man did ask himself this same vital question. Solomon, famous worldwide for his wisdom, sought to get the absolute maximum out of life. Any human being would be considered wise who seeks this goal–and search he did:
“I applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with” (Eccl. 1:13 RSV).
It is understandable that any human being would want to live life to the fullest. The question is, how does one go about attaining this goal? Solomon searched every way he could think of: pleasure (Eccl. 2:1); alcohol (v. 3); work and planning great works and doing them (vs. 4-6); possessions (v. 7); money, music, and sensual pleasures (v. 8); total self indulgence (v. 9); intellectual delight and its opposite, madness and folly (v. 12); power over people (he was king) (v. 12).
That doesn’t leave much out, does it? So, after exhaustively searching with total intensity and dedication, with all his heart and mind–that is, with the greatest of passion–for the answer to how to achieve the absolute fullness of life, to what conclusion did this man of legendary wisdom come?
“I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless” (vs. 18,19).
In the end, no matter how much passion he poured into living his life for all it was worth, this wisest of wise men concluded: “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 2:11 NIV).
Why is this? Why is the absolute maximum best that a human being can put forth to live life to the fullest not enough? Why does passion for life fail? One reason becomes readily apparent when reading Solomon’s record of his own search: because all that man achieves, singularly or collectively, does not last. And if it does not last, what difference does it make that he did it in the first place? Their passion, “their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun” (Eccl. 9:6 NIV).
What ultimate difference is there between a life lived with the greatest passion and one with no passion at all? Sure, it matters at the moment, but that moment is quickly gone, evaporated into the dark mists of eternity’s blackness forever, along with all the other moments and the passions and the lives of those who expressed those passions–or not. Passion is of value in life and to be valued only if there is some way to keep that life from dying. The worth of passionate living is inseparably linked to the life of the one showing that passion.
But passionate living in itself has no power to keep one alive, thus preserving the worth of that life and that passion. This fact is enough to send anyone into depression. No matter how hard one tries to live life to the fullest, it is doomed to meaninglessness. This is the inescapable conclusion that the wisest man on earth reached.
“Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless” (Eccl. 3:19 NIV).
Meaningless. What a despairing conclusion to reach about one’s own existence. Yet it is a logical conclusion to reach. Our short life is nothing but darkness before we are born, with one brief spark that momentarily glows before going out and passing into darkness again. True, some sparks are bigger and brighter than others, but so what? In the end, what does it matter if all burn out and are engulfed in the same blackness? No meaning, no hope. Just darkness.
But wait. What is that light shining in the darkness? “The people walking in darkness see a bright light; light shines on those who live in a land of deep darkness” (Is. 9:2 NET).
What is this bright light and morning star? It is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. How gracious are his words to us who live in the darkness.
“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in the darkness” (Jn. 12:46 WEB).
But he is not only light in the darkness, but life to those who dwell in the darkness.
“In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness” (Jn. 1:4,5 NIV).
And he is not only life but abundant life. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10 NIV).
Jesus is the way (Jn. 14:6) to fullness of life. Jesus came as the light of this dark world. He promises not only light but life, and not only life but fullness of life. But unless he has a way for man to escape the darkness of death, even this is not enough, for then Jesus would be simply another great teacher or person passionate about life. Unless Jesus has an answer to death, he too is no help to us, for no matter how abundant the life he gives to us now–how passionate for life our lives become–this too will vanish into the great blackness of death.
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:19 NIV).
No, there must be something beyond passion or abundance in this life for any messiah to be worthy of that title, one who saves. How wonderful, then, the words of Jesus, when he came to the grieving sisters of Lazarus at their brother’s death. When Martha looked to Jesus for help in their dark hour, Jesus’ light shone forth in the darkness, as he told her:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (Jn. 11:25 NIV).
Elsewhere, Scripture confirms the words of Jesus, the One who conquers death for us and turns our passion for life into eternal passion for him who is life. Because he who believes in him and trusts him will never die, thus preserving that passion for life forever.
“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? . . . Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54,55,57 NIV).
No wonder the gospel is called the good news! Through Jesus, no longer does our passion for life end with our life here on earth, but our passion for life finds its fullest and never-ending expression in him who is life itself, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the life in which our passion for life finds its fullest, final and eternal expression. Thank you, Jesus!
See that bright morning star shining in the darkness? “You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Ptr. 1:19 NIV).