Summary: Contrasting Koheleth and Paul in the later season of their lives: one blames the young, the other gathers them; one mourns broken things, the other invests in ideas; one is anxious, the other trusts God for every need.
This past weekend, as a part of our brief getaway, my wife and I spent two nights in an old farmhouse. The farmhouse dated from 1704 and was partly furnished with antiques.
Now my wife loves antiques; I guess that’s why she puts up with me. So we took the tour of the house, especially the parlor with its twin fireplaces.
The owner showed us two oil paintings he had just bought to hang over the two fireplaces. The paintings were both dated 1844 and were of a man and a woman, presumably husband and wife.
I asked our host if these were his ancestors. His reply was that he had no idea who they were and would just call them his "rented ancestors.” But a family member standing nearby commented that the old gentleman in the 1844 portrait did actually resemble someone in their family. But she went on to say that his companion in the other portrait didn’t look very pleasant, and, in fact, she hoped this lady was not a part of the family.
That set me to looking a little more closely at the two portraits. I saw an interesting contrast. I saw that the gentleman ... let’s call him "Grandpa" …did have a pleasant look. Insofar as you can tell these things from a painting, he looked calm, serene, happy, and contented. He seemed to be a man who, though he had lived a good many years, and perhaps had seen his share of tough times, was still a man with hope and courage and happiness. I thought I could read that on his face.
But if Grandpa was a happy man, I suspect he accomplished that in spite of and not because of Grandma. The woman in the other portrait had a harsh and stern look. Her jaw appeared to have been set in some kind of emotional concrete. Her eyes were narrow, half-closed, as though she suspected you of something. Whatever you did, it was probably wrong. Wasn’t good enough. I’ve known people like that: chronically unhappy, nothing ever quite right, nothing good enough.
There they were. Two pictures on exhibition. Two portraits of people in the autumn of their lives. Well past youth but by no means finished. Portraits of two persons in full maturity, who ought to have many of their life issues settled by now, but, to all appearances, utterly different in outcome. Grandpa happy, serene, content, ready for whatever may come. Grandma sour, angry, dissatisfied, suspicious of whatever may come.
What is the difference? When you get to those autumn years, too old to be young and too young to be old, what will you be? Contented Grandpa or sour Grandma?
Let me point you to two personalities in the Bible who mirror these perspectives. Let me guide you through two passages of Scripture which will shed some light on being either Grandma, unhappy and disappointed, or Grandpa, contented and forward-looking.
The first personality is the unknown writer of the book of Ecclesiastes. The Bible scholars call him Koheleth. Koheleth means "preacher" or “teacher". That’s what he calls himself all through Ecclesiastes. Koheleth in this fascinating Old Testament book sets out to discover what makes for happiness. You’ll remember his very negative conclusion when you hear it. You’ll remember that Koheleth in Ecclesiastes said over and over again, ’”Vanity of vanities, all is vanity". The word "vanity means “empty”. The preacher felt in the autumn of his life, "Emptiness of emptinesses, all is empty."
That’s Grandma. Dour, stern, hostile, unhappy. Empty. All is empty. Listen to Koheleth’s own words: Ecclesiastes 12:1-8. Wow.
Hurry up now, and along side Grandma’s portrait let’s hang Grandpa’s. I really mean Grandpa Paul, Paul, the great apostle, coming toward the end of his career, and, in fact knowing that his execution at the hands of the Roman emperor is not far away ... Paul is also evaluating the autumn of his life. But his perspective is utterly different. Totally opposite. Listen to Paul: II Timothy 4:6-18
There you have them, side by side. Two autumn portraits. Grandma, Koheleth of Ecclesiastes, terribly unhappy, downright morbid. Grandpa, Paul near the end of his life, happy, determined, thankful. What makes the difference?
Wander with me through some snapshots from an autumn album. Examine with me three little vignettes.
Page one. The first snapshot in our autumn album is taken of Grandma, seated in a formal parlor, prim and proper to the core. Around her are several other ladies, dressed as she is, in dark and stiff clothing. They are sipping tea, one cup each. They are nibbling at a biscuit, one and only one biscuit apiece. No excess, no frivolity, no lightheartedness; only duty, correctness, propriety everywhere. Ladies whose bodies were encased in whalebone corsets and whose souls were encased in rigidity.