When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tombs of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind.
~Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
~ The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem, in Ecclesiastes 1
Oh beloved, there are days that sink one’s hopes deeper than one had thought they had fallen in this world. We have so many aspirations as people. We really want things to work. But, it seems there is no way. None.
This fool of a writer is sitting today, in Singapore among the small ocean of high-rise buildings on this tiny island. The great leader of this country, for many years, united a people to come from the backwaters of Southeast Asia – and move into the 20th century.
This move worked. A few million souls – and their tiny island – have become the anchor tenant of the vast oceanic area in trade and finance. The city-state bursts with technology and the curves of modern architecture.
The clean faces of beautiful people in beautiful clothes abound. And the difference in infrastructure is profound. Almost no place in this part of the world is clean, but Singapore is a place where one could nearly always eat off the floor of the restaurant in which one is dining. And the contrast to my current home town of Jakarta is stark.
Jakarta reeks of sewage and trash and smoke. The trash of that city is often simply piled up and burned where it has been dropped. One would think that, in comparison, a city of riches like Singapore would be the place to be. And in so many ways this is correct. But today, I more saw deeper into the non-mystery of the world.
Misery abounds in Singapore. Oh yes, misery abounds everywhere. But the truth came home again to me today. We are not Home yet, and it makes little sense to try and make this flimsy planet our dwelling place.
It is so sad here. It seems the great hearts of this tiny dynamic state climbed the peaks of what they thought would be a summit, and found that they had just walked up to the edge of an abyss. After conquering the real challenges of deep poverty and disease and corruption, there has settled over the precious souls of this people a boredom and angst that bleeds from their collective countenance.
I see it, and it rips my heart open. For I have seen this kind of poverty before, but it was not in the eyes of people with beautiful silk dresses and seven hundred dollar gadgets in their hands. No, it was in the eyes of people who had given up hope and simply sat down to rest (and perhaps die) in places like the base of the smoking trash mountain of Nagrak/Cilincing, just outside of Jakarta proper.
Can we see it? Jesus did. He called earthly riches deceitful, and the love of the money that drives them, the root of all evil. Getting rid of poverty and disease is a pretty good idea. However, when it becomes the end we seek, we are going to find that the end of these things is really no destination at all.
We need so much more. Infinitely more. For the depth of our poverty goes much deeper than a lack of covering, or the getting rid of pathogens. There is within us, a brokenness which can only be healed by the blood of a Perfect Architect named Jesus.
Oh yes, He will heal us. And He may even give us some material blessings and freedom to help spread the Love. But they are only means to an End which will have no end. So, are you thinking that living in a beautiful place will satisfy your longings? Don’t. Tonight is your night beloved. Time to believe that Jesus is the only One who will complete you.