Adapted from Chapter Nine, “The Vanity of Strength and Beauty” from Making Sanity Out of Vanity: Christian realism in the book of Ecclesiastes by Stanley D. Gale (EP Books, 2011)
There is something special about the older generation. Before I entered the pastorate, I served as a hospital chaplain. One of my greatest delights was visiting those with some years under their belts.
In those visits I discovered two things. One, older folks had many memories and they enjoyed sharing them. I could see the sparkle in their eyes as they regaled me with stories of their past. I learned both history and their history.
Those stories were often accompanied with insights and observations gleaned from vast life experience. I heard stories of struggle and of joy, hardship and adventure. Often I heard a greater appreciation for life, especially the little things. I was blessed by my time with them.
The other thing I discovered was that, as these men and women entered the final leg of life’s journey, many had a keen interest in what lay beyond this world. Many were eager to talk about spiritual matters.
The young typically do not consider such things. The decades of life expectancy stretch before them. Older folks, on the other hand, wizened by hindsight, relate to the optimism of youth. They’ve got their own stories of youthful indiscretions and naivety.
But those in the twilight of their days see death as something real, and encroaching upon them. In many ways, speaking to the young about what lies beyond death seems irrelevant. They’ll deal with that when they get there. But the elderly understand themselves as almost there. They hear the subject of life beyond death with vested interest.
This article talks about death, but more importantly, it talks about God’s answer to death. It showcases the message that I was privileged to share in my role as chaplain. My prayer is that it will bless you as it has blessed others, turning death on its head.
My daughter worked at a fitness center, where she encountered Jim. Jim came in every day. He had to more shuffle than walk. His muscle mass impeded an ordinary gait. Jim was a serious weightlifter. His dedication would not allow much to sidetrack him from his workouts. He tore his abdominal muscles but he wouldn’t miss a workout. Pretty soon he developed a bulge in his abdominal area. It was his intestines protruding through a torn abdominal wall. Jim would just push the bulge back in place and keep plugging away. After a bodybuilding competition he thought he’d better have it checked out. Jim had waited too long, though. A large part of his intestines had become gangrenous and had to be removed. Jim lived to lift.
Jim’s case seems pretty extreme. Most of us are not that obsessed. However, we do live in a society where beauty is a god and fitness is a religion. “Bibles” fill the shelves with magazines depicting lean, muscled men and slender, tone women on the covers. The articles promise to do the same for you. The greatest enemy in this religion?—aging. Aging leads to wrinkles and weakness. Older people are admired when they can look young, through rigorous workout regimen or the knife of plastic surgeon. Everything possible is done to slow or reverse the aging process.
However, an undisputed fact remains. No matter how healthy you eat, no matter how much you run each day, no matter how much you work out, no matter how much time you invest in your appearance, your body will age and you will die.
With that soberly in mind we set off to explore two fountains. One, we will see, holds great promise. The other, great disappointment.