There is the very real possibility that growing older makes one more cynical. We may be able to identify with the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, and his repeated refrain that “all is vanity”. His endeavours to seek meaning in life—turning to wisdom (Eccl 1:12–18), self-indulgence (Eccl 2:1–11), wise living (Eccl 2:12–17), and toil (Eccl 2:18–26)—only affirmed his conclusion that all is “vanity” and “a striving after wind”.
However, we also note that the Preacher’s expressions of vexation and disillusionment with life are interposed with affirmations of the Preacher’s firm belief in God.1 Despite the seeming hopelessness in the book, the Preacher affirms his belief that what God does endures forever (Eccl 3:14), that God is in heaven, in contrast with man who is on earth (Eccl 5:2), and that God is the one who made man upright (Eccl 7:29). Indeed there are 36 references to God in Ecclesiastes. And he comes to this conclusion in Ecclesiastes 12:1: “Remember the Creator in the days of your youth.” But what does this mean?
First, we need to understand that “remember” is not merely a cognitive recalling, but a commitment and an application. To remember is to retrieve something from your memory and make a decision to act on it. I believe the Preacher calls us to remember three things:
1. Remember the Brevity of Life
We often take “in the days of your youth” to refer to our own modern conceptions of youth (i.e., roughly between the ages of 13 and 25), but when we read this verse in context, “the days of your youth” is juxtaposed with the days of old age and, more poignantly, death. In other words, what the Preacher is concerned about is not merely when we are youth, but before it is too late. It is a recognition that our lives are short, even though it may not seem so at times!
As we recognise the brevity of life, how do we live in light of this truth? One way to honour the brevity of life is to seriously reflect on its purpose. What do we want to achieve at the end of our lives? Are we here just to study hard, get a good job, start a family, and raise successful children? If we truly recognise that our time on earth is limited, we would choose our pursuits, and how we spend our time, wisely.
2. Remember the Gift of Life
In contrast to the depressiveness of death, the call to recognise the brevity of life is surely also a call to thankfulness. Here, life is painted to be a season of pleasure, contrasted with a time when we will “have no pleasure in them” (Eccl 12:1b). Life is not only short, but it is also a gift worth cherishing.
As we recognise the gift of life, how do we live in light of this truth? Remembering the gift of life should inspire thankfulness. Understandably, we all go through good and bad experiences in life, and we may not naturally be inclined to be thankful all the time. But, recognising that life itself is a gift, we will appreciate opportunities given to us, we will seek to avoid dangers and temptations, and we will want to learn from mistakes, giving thanks to God in all circumstances.
3. Remember the Giver of Life
This is the only time in Ecclesiastes that God is referred to as “the Creator”, and it is definitely no accident. If God is Creator, then he is the Giver of life; if God is Creator, then we are the created; if God is Creator, then there is meaning beyond the sun.
As we recognise God as the Giver of life, how do we live in light of this truth? Recognising God as the Giver of life points us to God in all seasons of life, whether they be hard or easy. We are called to cherish our relationship with God as Creator-created. God created us. We belong to him. Our relationship with Him then is the true source of meaning in life.
Don’t forget your Creator, you will regret it! warns the Preacher. This warning continues to ring true for us today.