Sixty-five years. Don’t they go by in a blink?” With those words, William Parrish, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins in the 1998 film Meet Joe Black, prepares for his rendezvous with death. The late singer Peggy Lee sang about the same theme in the song “Is That All There Is?”
No matter how long we live, life seems all too brief. Oh, don’t take my word for it or rely on some lines written by a screenwriter or songwriter. To the contrary, as long as people have taken the time to contemplate life, they have come to the same conclusion.
Five centuries ago, in his play Macbeth, act V, Shakespeare wrote, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Four centuries before Christ, the Greek philosopher Empedocles said, “Men rise up and disappear as smoke.” Long before that, the ancient book of Job declared, “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure” (Job 14:1).
Philosophers, priests, playwrights, songwriters, sages, and novelists throughout the millennia—all who contemplate life—find that something just doesn’t seem right. It’s not just that life is brief, but that somehow nothing quite fits. Like fish stranded on dry land, we feel like nothing works the way it should. We’re frustrated because we can’t swim on land, but we find walking arduous and futile. We may find a puddle here and there, but nothing deep enough to set us free. We ask, Is this all there is? about many aspects of life.
We spend much of our lives struggling to make a living. Now there’s an ironic turn of phrase. We spend many of those few precious hours of life, first in school and later at work, simply trying to provide food, clothing, and shelter. In other words, we devote a significant portion of our lives not to living but simply to make it possible to live another day. It’s a great blessing if we enjoy our work, but every job includes some drudgery, some tasks we’d rather not do. Many people in the prime of life find themselves burned out with the routine of work, work, work. They wonder, Is this all there is?
Even assuming our labors reward us with wealth and power, many find that, at the end of the day, they don’t feel satisfied. A journalist once asked oil billionaire John D. Rockefeller, “How much money is enough?”
“A little more,” the billionaire replied.
Apparently, once a fellow accumulates an amount of money, no matter how large, he still wonders, Is this all there is?
As we contemplate great or notorious figures in history, we find the same refrain repeated again and again. Those who seek pleasure, political or military power, academic recognition, or anything else, all come to that same sense of incompleteness, the same feeling that somehow “time is out of joint.” Historians claim that Alexander the Great wept when he realized that there were no more lands to conquer. We can almost hear his cry, Is this all there is?
Despite the great humanitarians Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer devoting their lives to helping others, the world still teems with multitudes of people in misery. Despite the billions spent in aid every year, children still starve, plagues like AIDS still claim their millions, and the number of souls living in poverty seems to grow.
It has come to the place where some despair so deeply at the prospects of this life that they willingly strap explosives on their bodies and detonate themselves in crowds in the hope of destroying as many others as possible and thus earning their entries into better lives. If this is all there is, humanity is in desperate straits!
Ancient people not only noticed the brevity of life, they also realized the futility of striving, accumulating, experiencing, even enjoying, yet discovering that everything came to nothing in the end. King Solomon, who experienced more of all these things than most, summed it up neatly: “I undertook great projects: I built houses . . . and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. . . . I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold. . . . I acquired . . . a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. . . . I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work” (Ecclesiastes 2:4–10).
You name it, Solomon had it, did it, and enjoyed it. He could have used the modern expression, “Been there. Done that.” He had a pretty rich existence, by any measure at any time.
Yet Solomon went on to conclude that “when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (verse 11).
Thus, Solomon asked the same question: Is this all there is?
At this point, you may be expecting me to say something about religion, about how being a Christian makes it all worthwhile. But you’re wrong. No less than the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Corinth, said that if this is all there is, “we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
If this is all there is.
But the Bible tells us that we were designed for more than this brief life with all its struggles and disappointments. It tells of a time before death and disease existed, when humans could look forward to an eternity of joy.
Thus, not only is “this” not all there is, “this” is—as we somehow sense—an aberration. It will not last.
Jesus told His followers that He was going to prepare a place for them. And that’s what He has been doing ever since—preparing a place where we will no longer feel like fish out of water. Not another place just like this, but a new world like the first, the world that we were made for and that was made for us. A world where life will not end. A world where disease, death, and destruction will be gone. Where strife and struggle will end. Where all the things that baffle and perplex us in this world will have passed away.
This promised world differs so much from our own that we can only imagine what it must be like. The few descriptions we have mainly tell of what will not be there: death, sorrow, disease, and pain (Revelation 21:4). As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—What God has arranged for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, The Message).*
And that’s why Paul, who had been beaten bloody and had been stoned and eventually was beheaded; Paul, who had given up prestige in Jerusalem in exchange for imprisonment; Paul, who experienced much of this world’s pain, could write to the Romans, “I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. . . . The glorious times ahead” (Romans 8:18–21, The Message)
Is this all there is?
Oh, no, my friend. There are glorious times ahead.