“Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning. The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." Ecclesiastes 4:13-16
Commentators disagree on the situation described in these verses. They apparently describe a king who, though popular in his youth, has grown foolish in his old age (perhaps through carelessness or greed or it could be nothing more than the toll of advancing years). He no longer listens to the advice of others. Along comes a younger man—energetic, full of ideas, brimming with vitality, eager to lead the country into a brighter future. Eventually the king loses his throne and the young man takes his place. The people cheered and the nation prospered. Then it happened again. After years in office, many people were not satisfied with the now not-so-young king. His idealism had vanished—or so it seemed, his vision for the future had slowly dissipated, and all that energy had evaporated with the passage of time. In the end he seemed just like the man he replaced—old, out-of-touch, cranky and creaky, an anachronism, a relic of bygone days. So the people cried out, “Give us a new king.” Although Solomon doesn’t spell it out, we may be sure that another young man rose to the throne and the cycle repeated itself again.
There are many lessons here, including the obvious one that fame is fleeting. Today’s heroes are tomorrow’s bums. Our attention is short, our memories non-existent, our only question, “What have you done for me lately?” There’s nothing to be done about this but to accept reality.
Each year our local historical society hosts a cemetery walk in which area residents dress in period costumes and act out the life stories of notable men and women buried in this particular cemetery. For seven years I portrayed the famous evangelist Billy Sunday at his gravesite. Each year I pondered the fact that in his day Billy Sunday was one of the most important men in America. He preached face-to-face to over 100 million people—and this before the age of social media, the Internet, radio, television, public address systems, computers, and DVDs. Today the public at large hardly knows his name. Rarely does anyone visit his grave.
This is the way it is. Solomon’s advice is, “You don’t like the idea that you can be replaced? Get used to it.” As French president Charles DeGaulle once remarked, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”
This truth might make you depressed, and it probably will if you’ve been hoping to take the world by storm. Good luck, and don’t forget to leave a forwarding address. Here’s some free advice: Do your best each day. Don’t fret over how you will be remembered when you are gone. Invest your life in the things that really matter and let God take care of your reputation.
Spirit of God, deliver me from faithless fear about things I cannot control. Help me to do my best and then to leave the results with you. Amen.