Columnist: The end of a thing is better
The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning …” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). I wonder if you agree.
If the writer means that the end of a thing is more important than the beginning of it, then I for one would readily admit that he’s correct. Certainly, it is better to have a thing turn out well than simply to have it start well. But as a matter of actual fact, the end of a thing is not always better than its beginning.
A year may start happily and end wretchedly. A career may start well and end miserably. A case in point is the biblical character Solomon.
Without question, Solomon accomplished much. He reigned as king of Israel for 40 years. After King David died, Solomon secured his royal power over his enemies. Solomon built the temple and he achieved great wealth.
Yet, with all his great accomplishments, Solomon was not faithful to God. God warned Solomon about his having many wives and building temples to their gods. The result was that the God of Israel became angry with Solomon, and after his death, the kingdom of Israel was split apart. Solomon began well, but ended miserably.
Now, let’s relate all this to the subject of growing older. To some people, growing older is a process looked upon as a disease. They do everything possible and even some things impossible to camouflage their years.
When they think of growing older they think of illness, loneliness, loss of status, unattractiveness, dementia, uselessness and death. On the other hand, there’s another way of looking at what it means to grow older – a refreshing way.
Many see it as a time of increasing satisfaction in living. They see it as a normal time of transition – a time of taking on new tasks, a letting go of previous responsibilities, deepening relationships, more time for reflection, a greater priority for the interests of God. Therefore, when we hear the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,” we simply respond, “It all depends.”
Especially as far as our own years go-it all depends. It depends on what?
First, if we are to end better, we must never stop growing. The reign of Solomon that was inaugurated in the full favor of God ended 40 years later with the kingdom falling apart and Solomon’s own soul deeply estranged from his maker.
What happened? One explanation seems to loom large over all others-that somehow in the middle to later years of his life Solomon stopped growing. In reality, we do not grow older with age, we age because we are not growing.
A man of 30 said not long ago that he hadn’t read a book in five years. He’s already old. Some boys asked an older man how he could be so spry and happy and radiant? He thought a moment, then pointed to a nearby apple tree in full bloom. He said, “Each year that apple tree grows a little new wood. When it stops, it dies. Each year I also try to grow a little new wood.”
Second, if we are to end better, we must never grow idle! Regardless of what you may think of President Jimmy Carter’s presidency or politics, I think most of us will agree that he represents among the best of those who refuse to grow idle.
President Carter’s “35-year-post presidency” is nothing short of remarkable and inspirational. Now in his 90s, his amazing efforts for human rights, world peace, the elimination of disease in developing countries, laboring for Habitat for Humanity, longtime teaching of Sunday school, battle with cancer and continuing activities for the welfare of humankind is a heart-warming example of not growing idle for all of us.
Third, if we are to end better, we must maintain belief in ourselves! God said in the book of Genesis, “Let us make humankind in our own image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
The point here is that we are made in the image of God, and that means we count with God. Maybe we can’t taste or see or hear or digest as good as we once could. Maybe our strength isn’t what it used to be. But God loved us enough to make us in his own image and that makes us important and of value.
During World War I, the King of England sent a Christmas card to all the soldiers in the army. There was one soldier who had no friends or family. He was alone in the world. He received nothing for Christmas. Then the royal Christmas card came. He responded, “Even if no one else remembers me, my king does.” How true!
Fourth, if we are to end better, we must live outside ourselves! On a plane flight, I once sat by an employee of Six Flags over Georgia. He was a young guy in his 30s who was on his way for a job interview with Six Flags over Texas. He said that he and his wife had been praying that they would do God’s will in the situation.
Believe it or not, the next day I ran into this same fellow at the airport in Houston while waiting on my flight back to Atlanta. On greeting him, I asked how the interview had gone. He replied, “Fine, but Six Flags over Texas is not nearly as pretty as Six Flags over Georgia.
I said, “So you’ll have to sacrifice beauty for responsibility.” Immediately, he responded, “No, I’m hoping to make beauty.”
Now, that’s the idea! No, that’s God’s idea! All of us are put here to “make beauty,” and that is for the period of a lifetime. We will make that beauty of we live outside ourselves.
“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” – it all depends.