One of the rules you learn when you study the discipline of marriage counseling is that you must try to help young people preparing for marriage to know at least this much: that whatever he or she is now, they will be more of it in fifty years. Whatever he or she is now, they will be more of it in twenty or thirty or forty or fifty years.
I hasten to say that I am not referring to poundage, although that would apply too to some of us. I am referring to personal characteristics, I am referring to elements of your bride’s or your groom’s character and personality. Whatever he or she is now, so will they be, only more so, as the years go by.
If he is irritable during football season now, lady, after you marry him and put a few years on him, he will be insufferable from Labor Day through the last Sunday in January.
If she is vain now, just wait until there are another 10,000 miles on the chassis, and she will make you late for everything getting the face and the hair just right.
Whatever that bride, that groom, is now, so will they be, yea ten times over as the years pass. Women have for years supposed that they could change that unruly lout by marrying him, they have taken on fellows as missionary projects, only to fail beyond their wildest dreams.
Gentlemen: well, I had a professor when I was in engineering school, who would offer us free lectures on how to choose a wife. Had very little to do with engineering, but it was supposed to be an illustration of how the scientific method could be applied to all of life. Shorty Long, about 5 feet one inch, would counsel us on how to select a wife. And you must remember that in the 50's there were precious few women in engineering school, even fewer than in the seminary. So he felt free to offer this method. First, said Shorty Long, find out how old her grandparents were when they died, take an average, and then you can predict how long she will live. It was not quite clear whether you were hoping for a high average or a low one. And then, said Professor, take a good look at her mother, because that's what she will look like 25 or 30 years from now. Is that what you're going to want?
Well, he encouraged us to do everything but examine the teeth of our prospective brides, but the basic principle is exactly what I have been talking about. Whatever someone is now, when they reach maturity, they will be the same, only more so. Whatever and whoever you and I are now, humanly speaking, that will intensify with the passing years.
I believe that if there is any truth to that it is more true in the spiritual life than in any other aspect of our lives. If who and what we are physically and emotionally only becomes more pronounced as we grow up and grow out and reach full maturity, how much more does our spiritual self intensify and deepen and become fixed. How much more pronounced we are, again, humanly speaking, when we take the long look backward and assess what it's all about.
You see, that's what happened, in my judgment, to the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes, or Koheleth, as the Hebrew puts it; the preacher, the teacher, as we would say in English. The preacher Koheleth begins his writing with a moan and a sigh. He takes a look at life as he is called to lead it, and sees very little to be happy about. And the longer he lives, the more he muses, the profounder his sense of resignation and almost despair about the meaning of life.
Today we would likely call him a cynic. A cynic, you know, is one who despairs that anything will every really be different, that especially will anything ever really improve. A cynic is never surprised by human sin or incompetence or phoniness; he knew all along it would happen. The cynic is convinced of the essential hollowness of life, and expects the worst. So Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson have both confessed to premarital sexual liaisons; so what, says the cynic, we didn't expect better of preachers, especially Baptist preachers. So over a hundred administration officials have been indicted or accused of various legal infractions; so what, says the cynic, I'm not shocked. They do it all the time.
The cynic, you see, is more than a pessimist. A pessimist expects the worst, but a cynic knows the worst before it happens. And a cynic, in fact, sees the worst for himself not just for others, but for himself. Let me quit trying to describe the cynic and let Koheleth, the preacher of the Old Testament, bear witness to what he felt when he looked back on a long life and a whole lot of efforts at trying to find meaning in that life:
All is vanity, a striving after wind, even giving himself to conspicuous consumption; oh, how like our times and our nation, even building houses and planting gardens and parks and building up possessions, even surrounding himself with lackeys and servants – still he says that terrible verdict, recorded again in vs. 17 and following:
"So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a striving after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun …"
There are no two ways about it. Koheleth has his mind made up. He's tried it all, and he goes on the next chapters to tell us he's tried wisdom and learning and knowledge and being a man of influence and substance. But when he comes to the end of it all, there is still one and only one verdict which he can render: vanity, emptiness, hollowness, a striving after wind.
I would tell you that I am feeling and hearing a profound cynicism
all across our world. Inside of the church as well as outside it, I am hearing the cynicism that says, "Well, utter your prayers for change if you like, but nothing will change. All is vanity and a striving after wind." Inside of the church as well as outside its walls I am sensing the cynicism of Koheleth: "I am never going to be any different, life is never going to get better, God is never going to be more real to me, and these rotten kids will spoil what little progress there is …all is vanity and a striving after wind."
To my disappointment, I hear men and women, Christians and non-Christians, say, "Well, I cannot see that being a Christian makes much difference. Those who profess the loudest to be saved seem the most lost. And those who proclaim the loudest about love seem to lack love themselves."
A generation ago T. S. Eliot wrote a poem about his generation and termed them the "Hollow Men." Not long afterward Arthur Miller, the playwright, penned "Death of a Salesman," and gave us everyman, Willy Loman, with his immortal line, "I still feel kind of temporary about myself." Everything in our time seems to point where Koheleth, the preacher of Ecclesiastes pointed: "I've tried everything, and all is vanity and a striving after wind."
But toward the end of the book of Ecclesiastes a slightly different note is sounded; as Koheleth wraps up his musings, something just a little different comes out … not too different, mind you, for remember where we began: whatever you are when you are young, that you will be all the more as the years pass. And this is the case with the preacher of Ecclesiastes; but there is a glimmer of something else. Listen now:
I hear that as a cry from the almost desperate, now a little softened; a cry from the tamed cynic, the almost desperate, who across his tear-filled years would look back at those coming after him and offer at least one word of counsel:
"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and. the years draw nigh when you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them.'" Remember to be in relationship to your God now, for the day will come when the cynicism and the "what does it matter" attitude you have now will be so hardened, so rigid, there will be no nope of change. Remember now your Creator, now before what you are intensifies into hard-boiled, bitingly sarcastic, unredeemable cynicism and you no longer believe that God is alive. Remember now. Just a glimmer of positive, hopeful counsel.
However, that's all Koheleth saw. That's the best the preacher of Ecclesiastes could come up with. Did the Bible end there, we would have very little reason for encouragement. If the preacher of Ecclesiastes had the last and only word, we could fold our arms and pronounce the end of it all; as the cynic often does, he feels he has the last word. But God is not finished with us yet. Praise God, he is not finished with us yet and he is not content to let us wallow in self-pitying cynicism.
No, there is yet the Gospel, the GospeL There is yet one who in the man Christ Jesus was about the business of reconciling the world unto Himself. There is that one who did not think it robbery to be equal with God, but nonetheless made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. There is to come that one who was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. There is yet the God of the Gospel, there is yet the very Word made flesh who enters our space and time, who shares our lives, just as we live them, and who becomes our companion. There is yet the Christ of our hope.
Here is what I beg you to see today: that it does not have to be true that what you are today you will become more and more in the days ahead. You do not have to be a cynic who proclaims that there is nothing new under the sun; you may be that to some degree today, but that can change, if you take on a companion, if you come alongside the one who walks with you and talks with you and tells you you are his own.
You see, we are negative cynics because we've discovered that people cannot be trusted. But what if you had a friend who was completely trustworthy? Wouldn't that blunt your cynicism?
We are critics and cynics because at heart we do not even trust ourselves. I tell you the more I observe human nature the more I am convinced that what I find in other people is really what I find in myself. And so if I tell you that others are no good, I am really telling you that I find no health in myself. But what if I discovered that I was accepted, radically accepted, just as I am, by someone who loves me unconditionally? Wouldn't that begin to erode my cynicism?
We are pessimists and worse, we are cynics who see little hope of change, little meaning in our work, little reason to trust that justice will prevail, because we have done nothing but work for our own needs and grumble about our own plights. But what if we found ourselves captured and caught up in a movement which was out to change the world and which could even see that its goal was in reach? Wouldn't that give us courage instead of vanity?
Ah, but it's all there. It's all there. God in Christ Jesus has become your companion. He has become your friend, he has received and accepted you just as you are; He has received what you are and what you can become. And more than that, he has gone to Calvary, where surely there were those standing around shaking their heads and saying in cynicism, "I told you so," but He has risen from the grave and He is on the way. He is on the way to becoming King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and you and I will reign with him! Can you hear that and still mutter, "All is vanity and a striving after wind?"
No, a thousand times no. It is not vanity, not when you and I receive this companion. It is not striving after wind, not when we grasp that hand; and prayer, opening up to him day by day, hour by hour, building a relationship, letting him address us, soften us, offer us purpose, offer us his presence – prayer will destroy cynicism. Prayer as an expression of our relationship to God will change us. And prayer will mean that even the most rigid may soften, even the most settled may grown, even the most cynical may gain hope.
Whatever you are now, that you will be all the more as the years go by? Not on your life. Not on your life if your life is hid with Christ in God and if in prayer you have a daily walk with Him. Why?
"We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but freely gave him up for as all, will he not also give us all things with him? For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor principalities, not things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
What a friend, what a relationship, what a loving, caring, accepting friend we have in Jesus. There are no cynics where there is friendship.