I recently listened to a podcast about Walt Disney (episode 204), and it was fascinating to hear the story of how he grew his company from a few cartoon drawings into what is today one of the top ten companies in the world. After Disney died, however, there was a massive court battled that raged among his descendants trying to get their piece of the family fortune. How must Walt have felt about that?
In this series of posts, The Teacher has been trying out various roles or personalities in life to try to discover the meaning of life. So far he is batting 0-6, but he has one more shot. The seventh and final role is The Philanthropist, which he describes for us in Ecclesiastes 2:17-23.
The Philanthropist attempts to find the meaning of life by accomplishing and acquiring much, as a legacy for future generations.
This is the person who really is a hard worker and has a kind heart. Think of Milton Hershey or Bill and Melinda Gates, people using their wealth by investing in future generations.
But as I mentioned above about Disney, the Philanthropist’s plans don’t always work out well. These kinds of battles don’t just happen with the uber-wealthy. Some of you have had similar battles in your families.
So, the Teacher concludes, who knows what the next generation or future generations will do with one’s accomplishments or gifts? Others in the future may even use one gifts and legacy for folly and evil. The teacher is right. Do you know that your descendants will use the legacy you worked hard for in a way that is wise and honorable? In fact, a possible outflow of your Christian faith could be how you handle your will and your estate. Think about your last will and testament as it is currently written: does it all go to family members? Why? Will they use it in a way that is in line with way of Jesus?
Here’s an idea: consider writing your will so the distribution of your estate is a reverse tithe. What if you would give 90% to the Kingdom of God and 10% to family members? Don’t tell them about this while you’re alive, or it could create a tense situation in your family! A reverse tithe would be one way to address the philanthropist’s concern.
So very much like the Puritan, while the Philanthropist attempts to do good with their life, in the end, they will die too.
What we see in the seven roles or personalities (if you want to read about the previous six personalities, start with #1 here, then #2-4 here, and #5-6 here), is that there are many ways people try to bring meaning to their lives, and they all fail at answering the question of what is the true meaning of life.
So what should we do? The Teacher tells us. Let’s read his conclusion in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26.
I love how Dorsey summarizes the Teacher’s conclusion, “One can neither discover nor achieve lasting significance for one’s life; nor can one discover life’s ultimate meaning; so abandon the futile effort and enjoy the gifts and work that God daily gives you. Live in a way that pleases God; enjoy the happiness that comes from him as you live this life, the ultimate purpose of which you cannot perceive.”
Focus on joy today. This does not mean that wisdom is foolish and we should stop going to Costco and buying things in bulk and do all our shopping at the corner store. Convenience stores are always going to be more expensive than wholesalers. Also using coupons and shopping at discount stores is still wise! What the Teacher is saying is that while wise living does have its purpose, it cannot ultimately bring the meaning the we so desperately seek. Perhaps you know people like this. People who use wise principles in various areas of life but they are still really struggling with understanding the purpose of life?
Maybe Tom Brady, the NFL quarterback, is an example. Brady was once asked after winning the Super Bowl, “How does it feel? It must feel great to be the champion.” Brady replied, “Yeah, it is great, but I want to win one more.” Maybe that’s just Brady’s competitive personality coming out. Or maybe his comment is evidence of the emptiness deep inside, and emptiness we can all feel, an emptiness that none of the seven roles can fill.
The only way we find true meaning in life is when we rest in God, when we follow his way of life. In other words, to answer Ed Ames’ question in the song I mentioned in the first post in this series, “Who will answer?”, who brings meaning to life? God does. Jesus is the answer. But how? Check back tomorrow for the next and final post in this series, as we’ll try to answer that question!