Summary: We search for permanence through accomplishments, wealth, legacies; but Job discovered that he needed a Redeemer who would stand in his place and bring him a lasting relationship with God.
Have you discovered that nothing which you call permanent really is permanent? Lots of things are called permanent, many things are described as lasting, but they aren’t. Not really.
Not long ago I wanted to mark two plastic containers so that I could be sure they would stay permanently marked. It was important, because I wanted to put gasoline in one and kerosene in the other. I had had enough of scribbled pen or crayon markings being rubbed off, so I went to the cabinet and got out something called a “permanent marking pen.” A “permanent marking pen”. I diligently wrote on those containers with that permanent marking pen, making the labels clear, and set the cans up on the shelf. But I didn’t count on the fact that either of those liquids spilling out over the permanent marking was enough to make it less than permanent. Permanent marking pens, when a solvent goes to work on them, aren’t permanent. Lots of things are called permanent; many things are described as lasting, but they aren’t. Not really.
Yesterday afternoon I officiated at a wedding. As in every wedding I have ever done, we used the words, “till death us do part.” We expect permanence in this relationship. And yet, as the groom and I sat waiting for the ceremony to begin, he told me about an acquaintance of his who had been married five times, and one of those marriages had lasted a grand total of thirteen weeks! Lots of things are called permanent, many things are described as lasting, but they aren’t. Not really.
That doesn’t stop us from trying to make things look permanent. We put makeup on corpses, so that we can fool ourselves into thinking they are living; but they are not. We build monuments to great men, hoping to perpetuate their memories, but I can show you a District of Columbia storage yard cluttered with statuary that nobody wants on the streets any more. And gentlemen, if you are not convinced yet, just ask your wife why that hairdo that she has done again and again is called a “permanent wave.” I don’t think so, and I have the receipts to prove otherwise!
We would like to think that some things are permanent, but experience shows us something else. In Marc Connelly’s play, “Green Pastures”, the angel Gabriel, having been sent by God to report on how things are down below, comes back to heaven and offers his own version of the six o’clock news. God, He says, you know that earth you made, and it was so fine, you called it very good? You know that world you created, and you said, now that’s a good job. That will last a whole eternity? Well, Lord, I have to ask you. Do you know what’s happening down there now? Why, Lord, everything not nailed down is coming up loose!”
I suspect that the angel Gabriel was not the only one to figure that out. We know very well that we live in a world that’s coming up loose. The world is changing rapidly, and it’s all we can do to figure out where we are, much less peg ourselves down and stay anchored. The world is changing rapidly, it’s coming up loose, and finding something that you can hold on to and be sure of is getting very hard to do.
But don’t you want to? Don’t you just get hungry for some things you can count on, some things you can be sure are always going to be there? Don’t you thirst for some permanence? I find I want life to be something like my old neighborhood where I grew up. I don’t want things to change. I want to go back and see the same old familiar buildings and the same old predictable parks and streets. I want to go back and find things as I left them years ago. Maybe it’s looking for a lost childhood. But whatever it is, I find that I want to know that some things don’t change, some things are sure, some things can be counted on. I want stability and permanence in my life; don’t you want that too? Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, says, “I feel kind of temporary about myself.” We feel that too. We need to know that something lasts.
And so we work very hard at creating stability. We work very diligently at doing things that we think will come close to giving us staying power.
For example, we work at our achievements. We labor to accomplish something. A taller building, a mightier machine, a smarter computer, we want to achieve something that will last. But even the best of our achievements are doomed to temporariness. I suspect lots of you went to see the movie, “Titanic”. In the story of “Titanic” you heard all the bragging about how the engineers had built an unsinkable ship, and had loaded it with all sort of expensive adornment, confident that it would ply the sea lanes for years and years. But an iceberg spoke a ravishing “hello” on the very first voyage! The unsinkable, permanent “Titanic” fell fathoms into faultiness. Our achievements are not permanent.